Best of IDF: top tech and memorable moments from Intel’s tech show
Intel’s annual Developer Forum is a celebration of all things tech, both creative and innovative, and this year brought together the usual engineers and developers – while adding a bit of high fashion to the mix.
This was mostly via the arrival of wearable tech and ridiculously slender tablets, but at its heart Intel is an engineering firm, and the deep-dive sessions into 14nm, discussions on silicon photonics and intriguing 3D cameras more than outweighed the fashion fluff.
Here are our picks of the best of this year’s Intel Developer Forum. Were you at the show? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
Best tech at IDF
Intel’s RealSense camera is the most intriguing innovation at the show. The technology uses multiple cameras to grab a standard image and add depth information – similar to how our own eyes work.
Intel has built this into a small strip of components that can be embedded in a laptop, tablet or even smartphone – without adding much, if anything, to the cost.
This means you can change the focal point of images after they’re taken, such as blurring the background, or sharpening the focus on the front of your target rather than the back. It also makes it easier to run some edits and filters; the depth data means you can drop the colour out of only the background, for example.
Plus, you can measure things. The RealSense camera lets you take a picture, tap two points, and see what the real-life distance is between them. Or, you can use the camera as a 3D scanner, to quickly make models – either for 3D printing or fitting clothes bought online (more on that below).
Best product at IDF
As much as we’ve had our head turned by the Dell Venue 8 7000 Series – the super-thin tablet with the first commercial RealSense camera – we have to give this award to Edison.
For $50, Intel is giving developers, entrepreneurs and so-called “makers” an entire PC’s worth of power in the size of a postage stamp.
The projects on show using the beta version of Edison range from the silly to the immediately commercially viable, and once the hardware is more widely available, we expect it to be as powerful a creative spark as the Raspberry Pi.
Best project or partner demo
Intel had a host of partners and projects on stage, to show how they’re using the chipmaker’s tech. Some were heartwarming: one child created a Braille printer in his summer holidays, to make it cheaper and easier for blind people to read, while Stephen Hawking appeared in a video explaining how technology has allowed him to not only survive but to thrive as an academic, showing off a smart wheelchair.
Such worthy projects are much more important than the one that caught our eye.
Because as admirable as those projects are, we can’t stop thinking about Volumental, which uses the RealSense camera to take body measurements, to help perfect online shopping. You’ll never have to go to the high street to try on shoes or a new frock ever again; simply scan yourself and place your order.
Best Intel demo
The best Intel demo wasn’t the wireless charging or docking, or the various shiny new Broadwell devices, lovely though they are.
Instead, our favourite demo was in Diane Bryant’s datacentre keynote, where she talked up silicon photonics – a new way to make datacentre cables that’s faster, with performance not degrading over distance.
Bryant pointed out that copper cables really max out at 3m. Cables made with the silicon photonics technology can go much, much longer. To highlight that, she showed a massive coil of cable… and then sent a staffer with one end of it out of the door of the huge keynote hall. Much laughter ensued – this is what qualifies for high jinks at Intel shows.
A minute later, the cable-carrier returned… through a different door. Bryant accused her staffer of being “attention seeking”, but let’s see copper cables do that.
Best prediction of IDF
After four days with our backpack weighed down by charging cables and a power brick, we do see the appeal of Intel’s plans to create PCs that are truly wireless.
Still, the prediction that we truly hope comes through is in the field of medicine. Intel is working with Genomics for Cancer, a research group that aims to boost compute performance in medical research. At the moment, many academic groups don’t have the best processing power in the world. Improving that, and giving oncologists the training to use it properly, could change how we fight cancer.
Here’s Intel’s goal: by 2020, oncologists will be able to sequence an entire genome, identify the cancer-causing genes, and prescribe personalised, precision medicine – all in one day.
Forget smartwatches: let’s cure cancer.
Best session of IDF
The head of mobile communications, Hermann Eul, is Intel’s eccentric uncle – but in a good way. Walking into his IDF session – dubbed ‘Appy Hour – we were handed appetisers and beer served in colour-changing mugs, and he took to the stage in a jumper emblazoned with the letter H.
Silly as it all sounds, the discussion focused on how mobile was changing the world for the better, and providing new opportunities to people living in emerging markets – life-changing, important stuff that answered the “why” of innovation rather than just the “how”.
You can watch his session here – it’s well worth your time, just maybe grab a beer first.
Best conversation at IDF
Michael Dell showed up on stage to push PCs, saying his company is actually seeing growth. While this certainly makes us feel cheerful, Dell and Krzanich had an unexpected way of showing it.
“When you get back to your PC, give it a hug,” Dell said. “It’s okay to hug your PC.”
Intel CEO Brian Krzanich agreed: “I hug mine every day.”
It may just have been us, but the several thousand people in the audience held their breath to see if the two CEOs would embrace; sadly, they didn’t.
Best zinger at IDF
Intel gathered a panel of speakers to discuss smartwatches, including Barneys’ head of digital Matthew Woolsey. If you’re not aware, Barneys is a very posh American store.
The day of the iPhone 6 launch, an attendee posed the question of whether the $350 price tag of the Apple Watch was too high, asking if it would fly off his shelves.
His response, delivered in a perfect deadpan manner: “A $350 watch would probably be the least expensive thing in the store.”
Touché, well-dressed man. Touché.
Our favourite Intel-er
This is the second IDF to feature Brian Krzanich at the helm of Intel, and he’s clearly hit his stride: he comfortably admitted making mistakes with Atom, cracked jokes throughout his sessions, and even looked as though he was ready to hug Michael Dell. His staff appear to genuinely call him “BK”.
That said, and much as we genuinely laughed at some of BK’s jokes, the Intel staffer we learned to adore at this year’s IDF was none other than Diane Bryant, head of datacentre.
Here’s one reason why: Krzanich self-deprecatingly noted that Intel is a tech firm, and wearables need to pair tech and fashion – and he’s so bad at the latter, he may well have been the worst-dressed man at New York Fashion Week, where he helped launch the MICA smart bracelet.
Indeed, there were a host of jokes about male engineers and execs not finding Intel’s MICA smart bracelet quite right for their masculine wrists – not exactly great advertising for the product. If even Intel thinks it’s a joke, who would buy the MICA?
That marketing damage was undone by Bryant, who simply didn’t step onto stage without it. While the £1,000 smart bracelet is clearly out of most people’s budget or needs, it makes perfect sense on the wrist of a tech-savvy exec – the Apple Watch or Moto 360 aren’t slick enough.
And she wore the MICA while displaying some impressive engineering chops: Bryant leads the datacentre group, meaning her presentations dig into networking and storage rather than smartwatches and laptops; she got the job after running Intel’s own IT department for years. She was one of the techiest people to deliver a keynote at IDF, and she did it in a great pair of heels.
That may all sound silly, but she’s exactly what the “women in tech” movement, for lack of a better word, needs. Many female tech leaders come from a marketing background, but Bryant is a true engineer.
All that, and she’s bubbly, warm and funny on stage. Intel doesn’t single out Bryant or its other women staff for succeeding despite their gender – they simply get on with their very good work. But if any women-in-tech groups need a role model, give Bryant a call. She’s well worth anyone looking up to, regardless of gender.