The first day of Intel's Developer Forum saw discussion of the company's new CPU microarchitecture, code-named Sandy Bridge and manufactured at 32 nm. But the most important changes might be how the company develops future products.
It’s September in San Francisco, so it must be time for another Intel Developer Forum.
As is usual in these Intel technology love fests, we’re seeing new CPU rollouts, updates on memory roadmaps, new usage models, and the Showcase, the mini-tradeshow where you can find products and technologies ranging from cloud-based, distributed raytracing to tiny handheld computers.
The big chip news at this year’s IDF is the rollout of Intel’s new Sandy Bridge architecture. In case you haven’t been following the rumors, Sandy Bridge is the latest “tick” in Intel’s tick-tock model of product development. The “tick” is the creation of a new microarchitecture, always built on an existing manufacturing process. The “tock” is pushing out enhanced versions of existing products, but rolling them out on newer (and ever-smaller) manufacturing processes.
But before we dive into the details of Sandy Bridge, it’s worth a brief visit to IDF, Day Zero.
Experience-Based Product Design? From Intel?
Dr. Genevieve Bell is one of the few Intel Fellows who is a woman. She’s also the only Intel Fellow with a doctorate in anthropology rather than an engineering degree.
Anthropologists study culture--how people interact, live in their environments, and socialize. Dr. Bell is focused on understanding why people love their gadgets and what it is about technology experiences that they crave on a daily basis. That, in turn, allows her and her team to help shape what new user experiences and usage models may become popular a few years from now.
Understanding what people really want to do, as opposed to what they have to endure to do what they want to do, is critical for today’s tech companies. As technology products become more like commodities ($300 laptops, $500 big screen HDTVs), making the right guesses about what products to build becomes as much a part of a company’s core competency as the ability to clone a $2 billion manufacturing plant. Guess wrong, and those big process plants go idle. Guess right, and you rake in the big bucks.
Intel thinks the idea of understanding future user experiences is important enough that it has funded an entire arm of its research organization to this, known as “Interactions and Experiences Research.” Split into design and technology elements, and headed by Dr. Bell, the idea is to understand how users worldwide experience their technology, what they love about it, and what frustrates them.
The key image Bell used in her presentation was an ad from the 1959 release of the Bell Princess Phone.
Nothing about this ad even mentions using the Princess Phone to actually make phone calls.
"It’s little, it’s lovely, it lights.”
But does it make phone calls?
Bell used this as an example of a product that was highly technological, but the marketing was decidedly non-technical. But the Princess phone brought the telephone out of the front hall and into bedrooms, made buyers want to have more than one phone line in the house, and, in an eerily prescient version of today’s smartphones, was sold as a service. You could only rent a Princess phone and had to install and pay a monthly charge for a second phone line. But it revolutionized communication in its day.
Intel’s Experiences and Interaction group is looking for usage models that might represent the next, similar leap. Whether they’ll succeed inside Intel’s engineering results-oriented culture is an open question, but it’s an interesting perspective on how one engineering company is trying to reshape how it develops products for the future.