08 Jan Intel Doubles Down On The Smart Home At 2018 CES

In response to the tremendous growth occurring in connected devices within the home, Intel  announced today a comprehensive 5-point strategy focused on bringing more intelligence to the home, along with other new advanced capabilities. This new strategy is great in that it accentuates a partnership element and is highly focused on facilitating solutions that make consumers’ lives more convenient, enjoyable, and “always” connected. What I find most interesting is that Intel is doubling down on the smart home after years of non or relatively low participation, by leveraging, without apology, its historic industry leadership role.

Here’s a brief recap of the key elements of Intel ’s new “Smart and Connected Home” strategy:

Bringing superfast Wi-Fi to the home

Just prior to CES, Intel  announced expansion of its Wi-Fi portfolio with new 802.11ax-enabled chipsets for mainstream routers and gateways that will begin to ship throughout 2018.  802.11ax offers a tremendous leap in bandwidth speed and distance (substantially higher than 802.11ac) and is ideal for faster, smoother content, video streaming, online gaming and video communications. Analyst Anshel Sag wrote about this in detail here. The industry has largely been stuck on 802.11ac for some time for the past several years so it’s good to see Intel put its considerable marketing muscle and market credibility behind this new standard.

Home network protection
Acknowledging that the typical home has more connected devices than ever before, and the corresponding, ever-expanding threat surface, Intel is highlighting comprehensive networking products that can deliver high performance without sacrificing privacy and security. The company cited the new D-Link AC2600 Router Powered By McAfee with MU-MIMO as a great example for protecting disparate connected devices on a home network in an across-the-board manner as it utilizes Intel ’s Home Wi-Fi Chipset WAV500 Series to deliver strong Wi-Fi connectivity, even as more devices are connected to the router. In my view, this is indeed welcome news as most consumers tend to focus on the pure benefits of a new router rather than the real security risks that begin to emerge with the introduction of many new non-conventional smart home devices into the home. Intel deserves kudos for emphasizing home network protection as a critical component of its new strategy.

Evolving the conventional router into “modern art”

Intel has long recognized the value of great industrial design, going back ten years ago to when the company began strongly pushing PC OEMs to develop cool new product designs (the “all-in-one” form factor, for example). It’s not terribly surprising that it is now strongly promoting innovative designs with traditional networking products. As consumers are more frequently placing networking and communicating devices outside of the closet–especially products that have an ambient computing functionality like Amazon Alexa and IFTTT support– Intel is sounding a clarion call to manufacturers to place an equal amount of emphasis on great design. At CeS, Intel specifically called out ASUS and its Blue Cave Wi-Fi Router as a terrific example of fashionable, contemporary design. Again, Intel ’s not so subtle push behind this strategic directive is likely to generate other cool product router designs that won’t look like they were designed for Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory.

Touch and voice must be a consumer choice

Recognizing that “one size doesn’t fit all” from a product usage model standpoint, Intel is now emphasizing that despite voice being the interface of choice for  personal assistants like Amazon Alexa, touch can be better suited to the task for some products. Again, Intel  went out of its way to highlight JD.com ’s new smart assistant, the JD DingDong Play, that gives consumers the best of both worlds. This product, targeted for the China market, employs both voice functionality and a large touch-enabled screen that can play video, as well as performing facial recognition due to its Intel Atom processor. This is a powerful point of differentiation between the Microsoft (and, by extension, the PC OEMs) and Apple as Microsoft  has always been more about user choice (especially from an interface standpoint) than Apple , who has preached that touch is not a requirement on certain types of platforms (e.g. PCs) or devices (e.g. HomePod).

Leveraging the power of PCs and voice functionality

The final element of Intel ’s “smart and connected home” strategy that it announced at CES revolves around uniting consumers’ digital experiences together. Over the past 24 months, voice services at the PC platform level have grown enormously. With Amazon Alexa for PC, OEMs like Acer and HP are adding hands-free access to their desktops and notebooks, adding an element of seamless interactivity that never existed before for directing smart home tasks. You can expect a number of PC OEMs to announce products throughout 2018 that utilize Intel Smart Sound Technology and Intel Wake on Voice capability for providing a high fidelity audio experience and being in the proper readiness state to hear the appropriate “wake” word.

Analyst take

My initial reaction to Intel ’s announcement is that its strategy appears to be wholly appropriate and logical given the opportunities and challenges that consumers are currently facing as the connected home grows in size and complexity.  The home network is no longer just about connecting your notebook, desktop or printer–it must confront the non-trivial challenges that consumers face as they install devices to control their HVAC, security systems, lighting and other traditional functions in the home.

In my view, what Intel has announced here is a comprehensive set of strategic guidelines for the major PC OEMs and peripheral manufacturers, intended to fulfill its vision of a smarter, more integrated home, that is highly secure without sacrificing performance. I am also impressed that Intel has taken the route of strong collaboration with other key vendors because a “go it alone” approach would not likely build confidence with consumers whose smart home is likely already populated with multiple brands and disparate devices. Despite Intel’s size and strong market share position in the PC client space, the most ambitious element of its strategy is its push to promote ambient voice recognition at the PC platform level– a challenging task, given Apple ’s incumbent position with Siri support on smartphones and tablets (not to mention its forthcoming HomePod offering).

The smart home category is an exciting area and will undoubtedly experience tremendous growth in 2018 and beyond. It’s also a category that offers enormous risks and confusion which could potentially turn off mainstream consumers–where the real growth and volume will come from. Acknowledging its historic role (and responsibility) in the industry as one of the key market leaders, Intel  deserves genuine congratulations for a sound and serious approach that should be able to make serious inroads into making the “smart and connected home” a more optimum and secure place for consumers to live.