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IDF Day 2: Anand Chandrasekher: "MIDs: Platform for Innovation"
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Date: Aug 20, 2008
Section:Processors
Author: Daniel A. Begun
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IDF Day 2: Anand Chandrasekher: "MIDs: Platform for Innovation"
Day two of IDF kicked off with a cheesy, classic Star Trek opening-credits rip-off that concluded with the statement: "The Internet, to boldly go where it has never gone before: in your pocket." Then it was Senior Vice President and General Manager of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group, Anand Chandrasekher's turn to present his keynote on the state of today's and tomorrow's MIDs (Mobile Internet Devices).

     

Chandrasekher says that in June, the number of people who used the Internet was roughly equal to three times the population of the U.S. Chandrasekher also said that we are now at an inflection point in regards to Internet access--although he didn't actually specify if he thought if it was trending down or up. Chandrasekher showed how Internet usage has changed in last 10 years by looking at the top 10 Websites in 1999, 2005, and 2008.  Social networking has become an increasingly popular presence on the Web these last few years. He says the Internet is still very young and will continue to change even more in the next decade.

The direction Chandrasekher sees the Internet going is one where people can take their Internet experiences with them, wherever they go. And once that Internet experience is untethered, he sees a much greater growth of Internet usage. Regardless, he sees the mobile Internet as a driving force behind the directions the Internet will start taking, and the platform that he envisions will enable all of this are MIDs.

     

Chandrasekher and "Russ" (yet another demo assistant who is never introduced by his surname) demonstrated a MID running a ported version of the location-based, social networking application, GyPSii. With the app, they looked up where their friends were currently located and found local restaurant recommendations. Chandrasekher sites this as an example of social networking, location info, user-generated content, and the Internet all coming together.

  

As the Internet advanced over time, how people engaged with it changed from primarily text, to pictures, to video, to user-generated content. As it advanced, it became more visually rich and more contextual. For it to continue to advance and become truly untethered, Chandrasekher says four needs need to happen:
  • Devices need to be high performance, but run at low power
  • Devices need to support the latest rich media Internet technologies
  • Devices need to support compatible software so that developers can develop applications for them
  • Devices need to support always-on connectivity

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Atom
There should be no surprise here, but the technology that Chandrasekher says enables all of this is Intel's Atom processor. The Atrom has 47 million transistors--about the same as the Pentium, according to Chandrasekher--but the Atom is a fraction of the size of the Pentium 4 and has much cooler thermals. In fact, Chandrasekher said that Atom is the "coolest" processor Intel has ever built--pun intended.

Chandrasekher then invited Belli Kuttanna, chief CPU architect of Intel’s Ultra Mobility Group, to join him on the stage. Chandrasekher referred to Kuttanna as the "father of the Atom," as Kuttanna was the Atom's lead architect. Kuttanna said that the biggest challenges his team faced when developing the Atom processor (which at the time went by the codename Silverthorne) were:
  • Building a brand new processor that is based on Intel Architecture (IA)
  • Ensuring legacy compatibility
  • Hitting raw processing goals while maintaining low power consumption
Kuttanna referred to Atom as a "good first step," and said that there were more exciting things to come. He did not, however, elaborate on that comment.

     

Chandrasekher posed the question, how do you measure performance of a mobile, connected device? One way is by measuring Webpage render time. Compared against a 400MHz ARM 11-based Nokia N810, Chandrasekher reports that Atom renders pages from 4 to 16 times faster. But Chandrasekher also suggests that Webpages are only the beginning of what matters. Chandrasekher says these devices should be able to play games and HD video too.

And that's just what happened next, with Russ's assistance. They loaded up and played World of Warcraft on a MID. Next, they played a 1080p HD video on an Okyo MID. Chandrasekher said that was the first public display of an Atom-based MID playing back 1080p HD video. Chandrasekher claimed that the silicon in the unit was a final, shipping version and not an engineering sample.

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Compatibility and form factors
One of the issues stifling development of mobile Internet applications according to Chandrasekher, is the lack of compatibility between devices. As new Internet technologies develop, it becomes increasingly problematic for developers to try to support the new technologies on multiple devices and platforms. However, by developing for an IA platform (such as Core 2 or Atom), developers need only write one version of an app, which would be compatible across multiple platforms and form factors.

     

To prove the point, Russ launched a Flash 10 (beta)-based photo editing application on a Compal MID. Next, Warren Tomlin, Chief Creative Officer for Fuel Games demonstrated a Flash-based game that he says took only one day to port over to the MID platform--and that included adding touchscreen capabilities to the application.

Fuel Games is one of hundreds of ISVs creating content for the "MID ecosystem." Other companies include Skype, Real, and MobiTV. New partners were announced today as well, including McAfee, Orb, and Livecast. One such company is Neusoft, which Chandrasekher said is the largest software company in China. Neusoft is developing both consumer and business applications for the MID platform in areas such as the digital home, automobile information and entertainment, IT, and health care. Dr. Liu, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer for Neusoft said that a hospital in Beijing was already using a PDA-based system and that the MID platform would be even more efficient, allowing doctors to review test results, health records, MRIs, and other similar documents in real time.

     

Companies such as Asus, BenQ, and Panasonic have also designed Menlow-based products. (Menlow is the Intel codename for a particular iteration of the Atom-based MID platform.) Chandrasekher said we are currently in wave one of Menlow products; wave two will come towards the end of the year; and the third wave of products will come out next year. Chandrasekher also mentioned that MIDs will come in different form factors and product categories. Chandrasekher broke the product categories up into productivity netbooks and MIDs, consumer MIDs, and communication MIDs.

     

     

Rance Poehler, President of Panasonic Solutions Company, showed off an ultramobile, ruggedized Toughbook that will start shipping next month for the enterprise and government sectors. Starting today, in parts of Asia the Fujitsu Atrom-based Lifebook MID is shipping. Also launching today is the ClarionMiND device in the consumer and communications space. The device is primarily a navigation device, but it also supports media functionality, such as video playback. In the entertainment space, the Lenovo IdeaPad is already shipping in China.

     

The successor to the Menlow platform will be the Moorestown platform, due out before 2010. Intel anticipates that Moorestown will see a 10x reduction in idle power, compared to Menlow. For more on Moorestown, however, Chandrasekher said folks will have wait for the Taiwan IDF in October.

More IDF 2008 Coverage at HotHardware:
IDF Day 1: Pat Gelsinger Keynote: Embedded + Dynamic + Visual
IDF Day 1: Craig Barrett Keynote: "Inspiring Innovation"
IDF Day 1: David Perlmutter: "Where Will 'On-the-Go' Go?"
IDF Day 2: Eric Kim: "We Love TV"
IDF Day 2: Renee James: "Developing for the Future of Computing" 
 


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