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Intel Developer Forum 2014: A View from Inside

Last week I went "Inside" and attended the Intel Developer Forum 2014 at Moscone Hall in San Francisco. This is the event that Intel puts on for their developer community, the thousands of engineers building the core technology in our devices and servers. Much of the event was oriented to things that are so foundational to Unified Communications and Collaboration that we do not even see them, and Intel is driving lots of things that will impact UC over the next few years.

I stopped briefly and looked into Superspeed USB (5 Gbps transfer rate), much about the Internet of Things, and Edison, a project to enable developers with micro systems. I also saw lots of new server chassis, and density that boggles the mind. However, mixed among these are some technologies that will impact our space in significant ways over the next few years. The following are a few observations of technologies and directions shown at IDF14 that will impact the UC marketplace.

RealSense--Intel demonstrated a new multi-camera technology that will debut in a new Dell tablet in November. The technology, named RealSense, combines multiple cameras and optimized processing to enable image manipulation.

The on-stage demo by Michael Dell showed changing of the focal distance in an image based on manipulating the multiple images from the cameras and changing the focal distance that is resolved. In the demo, a simple finger tap would pick an object, and the photo would immediately re-focus to that point. In the picture of a person in the foreground and the Golden Gate Bridge in the background, a tap on the person made the person clearly focused and the bridge fuzzy; conversely, a tap on the bridge moved the focus to that distance. This was not in real time, but on a stored image captured from multiple cameras at the edge of the tablet and stored in memory.

This technology has the potential of solving one of the key issues with desktop video conferencing: The misalignment between the camera and the center of the image screen. In most desktop video conferences, the active speaker is looking at the screen, while the camera is typically 5-7 inches higher, resulting in an image at the far end where the speaker appears to be looking at the chest of the receiver. With RealSense, it may be possible to use multiple cameras to resolve a single image that is looking directly into the screen, even though the cameras are on the periphery of the display.

The inclusion of this technology into tablets, laptops, and even monitors could make business video much more accessible and fluid. No longer will the speaker look earnestly into your belly button while talking.

Look ma, no wires, it is WiAll (Wireless for All)--Another keynote talk featured a PC connecting to a monitor and peripherals on the desktop without any wires, using WiDi (Wireless Display) technology. However, we all have one wire left...the power cable. And the demo addressed this: Intel showed a power technology that can be installed in the desk (or under it, up to two inches under it/through it!) and can power a headset, a mobile phone or even a PC.

The demo showed that placing the PC on the power location immediately powered the computer; lifting the PC up 3 inches caused it to go back to battery. While there is no name for this technology yet, it should probably be called WiPo (Wireless Power).

This combination raises all sorts of new questions about shared spaces, devices and peripherals in collaboration and office environments, and may be critical to the next generation of UC solutions. The combination of peripherals through Bluetooth, displays through WiDI, networking through WiFi, and WiPo power makes placing a device on a table with WiAll (Wireless for All) the same as integrating it completely into the environment. Imagine a conference table with a WiAll "spot" for each participant.

Based on the circuit board shown for the WiPo power base, this should be a relatively low-price add-on, and when combined with WiDi, each device can be "integrated" into the room experience. Just like in your office at home or in a hotel room, a WiAll space on the desk could allow you to place your device and have it seamlessly integrate into all of the home/room systems.

4K Video--While the value of 4K video in home entertainment systems may be questionable, the value in both office and conference settings is inarguable. See this white paper for an explanation of room video and 4K.

As part of an extensive 4K area at the Intel event, an 84-inch 4K touch screen display was shown. The potential of this type of system in a conference room is powerful. The key was that Intel is showing how the standard processors can manipulate and render multiple 4K streams simultaneously.

The potential of combining multi-party video, images and applications into shared screens could be powerful, and a 35-40 inch desktop monitor with similar capabilities would be a great office system. When combined with the ability to simply place your mobile device on the desk and have everything connect and start without a single wire, this would be really cool.

The fact that this can be done in a PC-type processor brings interesting options to the collaboration room. Combined with the fact that you could buy a P5 processor-based NUC mini-PC for $350 that is capable of managing and delivering 4K video streams, it continues to show that room-based video systems are going to come down in cost and go up in capability.

The PC: It is back, it is small and getting smaller--A key emphasis at the event was a plethora of new smaller, thinner PC offers. Most are convertible, meaning that you can use with or without a detachable keyboard. Of real interest was a new tablet, thinner than an ARM tablet (read iPad Air) and yet 3 times more powerful with full capabilities.

While some of these devices run Android, many are full-blown PCs. The advent of these devices may question the three-device user model (PC, tablet, smartphone), and move these users to two devices: a smartphone and a really small full-on PC that can be wirelessly integrated to a desktop tethered with a monitor (with 4 cameras and face rendering through the processor).

The Microsoft Surface looked positively thick in comparison to these new devices. Perhaps that was the goal of Microsoft, to kick-start the PC vendors into building Windows based devices that would be tablet killers. As many of us are carrying a keyboard with our tablets, these new devices appear to be very functional.

The term Phablet has been coined to describe a big smartphone that has some of the attributes of a tablet; perhaps the real value coming is a PT, the "Personal Tablet", the size of a tablet with the characteristics of a PC (OS, local productivity apps, keyboard, etc.). The Personal Tablet can be the desktop device, the remote full capability workstation, and the large form factor portable presentation display.

Intel, WebRTC and media processing--At a small pedestal, two companies, FACEmeeting and vooDoo were showing video conferencing using a Beta version of an Intel media server software stack. It is no surprise that Intel is interested in real-time. Both in endpoint devices and in the core, managing real-time is very different than managing information. It is clear that Intel is focusing on how to optimize for real-time and is working on how to enhance the core servers for real-time.

Both FACEmeeting and VooDoo were showing great multi-party video using WebRTC and the Intel media core for large multi-user video sessions. With the work being shown in 4K video and this activity, Intel is clearly focused on enhancing the capability of devices to do real-time, both in the core through its server technology, and at the edge in its device components.

Overall, this was an interesting event. Similar to CES in Vegas in January, the focus of this event is not on UC, but it is a place where technologies that will impact communications and collaboration in the months and years ahead can be seen.

In many ways, the UC market is being impacted more by technology, trends, and innovation from outside the core UC companies than the innovation generated in those companies today. While some of the technologies demonstrated at the event, like RealSense or WiPo, are being developed for general use, their application and use in our space will have major impacts. And it is clear that Intel believes that the advent of real-time communications in the web paradigm is coming, and they are focused on playing a key foundational role there. When the largest silicon manufacturer has a focus on WebRTC, it is clear that they believe it is real.

Finally, after years of hearing the PC is dead, it was clear that devices are morphing and the form of the devices of the future is continuing to evolve. In the end, going to this type of event is great to open our minds to what is coming and what is possible.