When I was asked to meet with two Intel's consumer gurus about a month ago, I gladly accepted the invitation; but I wasn't quite sure if the meeting would yield a newsworthy story.
New York – When I was asked to meet with two Intel Corp. consumer “gurus,” Tony Salvador and David Ginsberg, in New York City about a month ago, I gladly accepted the invitation; but I wasn’t quite sure if the meeting would yield a newsworthy story.
Until walking into the meeting, I remained skeptical because we’ve all heard of – and even written about – behavioral psychologists and social scientists who have allegedly contributed to improved hardware/software designs at different companies. We’ve been there, done that.
Moreover, I remembered that this wasn’t Intel’s first assertion of the importance of knowing “the consumer experience.” Intel has been engaged in decoding “people science” – for a while. Two years ago, EE Times even ran a story headlined “Intel's 'people sciences' bringing human touch to tech platforms”.
This sort of interview is what we call a “feel-good” story. It serves purposes, but I kept asking myself: Where is the news?
Tony Salvador was introduced as the senior principle engineer of the Experience Insight Lab at Intel. Ginsberg, who was a former Clinton/Kerry campaign manager, is now Intel’s director of Insights and Market Research.
Tony Salvador (left) and David Ginsberg (right)
Despite hailing from departments with dubiously touchy-feely names (or maybe because of it), I found the duo charming, spontaneous and engaging. The two guys spoke of Intel’s products not in terms of GHz and the finer geometry, but in terms of the “delightfulness” the new products can bring to consumers on an “emotional level.”
I discovered that Salvador actually worked at the Intel labs where researchers designed the classmate PCs (which has been successful).
Others at Intel’s labs also worked on smart TVs, helping the company’s engineers design digital TV SoCs like CE4100 and CE3100 (not so successful, as Intel disclosed earlier this month that it is quietly getting out of digital TV SoC business
They candidly explained their mission. Salvador’s job is to translate consumers’ “needs” into something tangible which design engineers can use in next-generation CPU designs. Ginsberg is there to connect the product/technology concept with the product group, so that the processor giant is on message to pitch it to the market properly.
However, a lingering question for me was this: Why does a CPU company need to get involved in the usability issues of a system? Isn’t it, in fact, the job of system OEMs who need to make sure their systems work right out of the box, and give the best user experience to consumers?
Salvador said, “Sure. System vendors like Sony and Hewlett Packard have keen understandings on how graphics and video in their systems have to work; and they need to develop and design them in a short time frame… like 18 months.” In contrast, “a CPU development cycle takes place in a vastly different time scale. Take an example of Intel’s Sandybridge. Intel has been working on it four to five years,” explained Salvador.
In other words, to give OEMs/ODMs what they need to build the best consumer experience on their systems, “It’s incumbent on us [at Intel] to think of consumers’ needs ahead of time,” concluded Salvador.
Fair enough. How about some examples?
Both Salvador and Ginsberg cited the same issue that emerges atop consumers’ wish list for their next computing device.
OK then: the $64 million question. How to translate that nebulous hankering for “performance” into something Intel’s design engineers can use in product definition?
Is it the faster speed of a microprocessor? Is it a less jerky video on the screen? Or, do consumers want faster access to websites?
Savador’s research team decoded the consumer yearning for “performance” in one word: “Responsiveness.”
Consumers want a “seamless, uninterrupted experience,” said Salvador. “They want their device to respond quickly. They are telling us, ‘don’t interrupt my flow when I am using my computer.’” They’re saying that ‘continuum’ is important to them, he added.
Breaking down the notion of “performance” into “responsiveness” takes a leap of logic. Not everyone would make that connection. In that sense, Intel’s Experience Insight Lab researchers really do bring added value to the company’s products groups.
Further, the notion of “responsiveness,” rather than being a slogan, has been incorporated into Intel’s Ultrabook initiative, according to Ginsberg. “Our product group validated this idea into a real Ultrabook product.”
So, let’s start from at the user level. Take a look at Ultrabook’s flow. Consumers want responsiveness. Ultrabook offers an instant-on feature.
Second, power is not compromised by mobility. “Understand that 85 percent of the time, consumers use notebook – or Ultrabook – at home,” said Ginsberg. That means, while power consumption is important, consumers are not willing to compromise the performance of their computing device. They still want a “powerful computer.”
Third, design. Consumers want the design to “reflect them.” It has to be “beautiful,” said Ginsberg.
Forth, security. Ultrabook is designed to accommodate secure digital financial transactions. Things like anti-virus capabilities, protections against ID theft and device theft increasingly matter to consumers.
Fifth, price. Consumers are asking for a mainstream price point. Ultrabook still needs to be affordable.
During a three-month period from March 2011 to June 2011, Intel worked very closely with computer OEMs/ODMs, said Salvador. The success of Intel’s Ultrabook initiative hinged upon how well Intel’s product group disseminated the Ultrabook design principles – originally developed by Intel researchers – among OEMs/ODMs.
Asus' thin and
That’s when it hit me.
The battle line in the CPU war for computing devices – especially Ultrabooks and tablets – is rapidly shifting from a processor’s specmanship to a system’s usability issues.
By letting Salvador out of the lab, and trotting out Gisberg, a former Washington pitchman, to frame the debate on Ultrabooks and tablets, Intel wants to tell the world the company is ready to help system vendors design products just as thoughtful and delightful, if not better, as those pioneered by Apple.
As many computer OEMs/ODMs in Asia move to the Android platform and wrestle with a whole host of new usability issues for new computing devices, that may be just the kind of thing Intel’s customers want to hear.
The Salvador/Ginsberg duo is now becoming one of the big differentiators for Intel to push its processors further into a nascent market.
The question is how much “consumer experience” and “consumer insight” Intel’s rival processor companies can bring when they start getting touchy-feely with OEMs/ODMs.