SAN JOSE, Calif. — A shakeout in wearables is dead ahead, according to Peter Hortensius. In a wide ranging interview, the chief technology officer of Lenovo told us it's a pivotal year for the nascent sector and also confirmed that the $34 billion computer giant has created a small chip design group.
2014 is the year wearables have to prove they can "expand beyond fitness devices," said Hortensius, noting their "inherent limits in display, input, and size that make it difficult to find a winning formula."
Lenovo "has some ideas on how to do it and others do, too. It's very much a nascent market with a lot of experimentation going on, and we've got our own studies," said the engineer and former IBM PC executive, declining to say whether Lenovo will field its first wearable product this year.
Hortensius did confirm the company has established a small chip design team. Last year EE Times reported Lenovo planned to expand a 10-person team into a 100-person unit to design chips for smartphones and tablets.
"We do think having some SoC design capability is important. I wouldn't say it's a major thing or massive investment. Right now it's just building up core skills. We'd like to have the ability to implement core design features in silicon over time, but we are not trying to be a CPU company."
Some chip design is currently in progress in the company's PC and smartphone division, he added.
Today, Lenovo invests less than 2 percent of its revenues in R&D. The figure may edge up slightly when planned acquisitions of Motorola Mobility and IBM's x86 server group close, probably later this year, he told us. Lenovo expects to gain an estimated 2,500 engineers from Motorola and another 2,000 from IBM, adding to its total headcount of about 46,000 employees.
Like many companies, Lenovo has been expanding its ranks of software developers faster than its hardware engineers. "But we still believe it's really the balance of the two that creates the best differentiation."
Lenovo operates an online store for Chinese-language apps on Android, Hortensius noted. It logs some 20 million downloads a day and has had 6 billion downloads total to date.
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