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How Intel Plans to Win the Battle For Robot and Drone Supremacy

August 16, 2016, 7:56 PM UTC
Opening Day Of The Mobile World Congress
Brian Krzanich, chief executive officer of Intel Corp., holds a microchip during a keynote session at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Spain, on Monday, Feb. 22, 2016. Mobile World Congress, an annual phone-industry event organized by GSMA Ltd., runs from Feb 22 to Feb 25. Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photograph by Chris Ratcliffe—Bloomberg via Getty Images

Intel won big in the Windows PC era by partnering closely with Microsoft and a handful of the largest PC manufacturers. But when the world moved on to mobile, Intel wasn’t just late, it missed an even bigger change about which partners to woo.

Apple and Google won the mobile platform war, but it wasn’t by being quicker to market. Though their strategies differed in important ways, both let Windows Mobile, Blackberry and a handful of minor mobile platforms blaze a mobile trail before they got involved. The critical lesson both Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL) learned early on was that consumers would gravitate to the phones that had the widest array of quality apps. And to get lots of good apps, they would need to attract lots of good app developers.

As Stephen O’Grady, co-founder of software analysis firm Redmonk, likes to put it, developers had become the “new kingmakers.” Instead of making just a few key deals with a few corporate titans, would-be platform owners needed to entice thousands and thousands of the top software creators, many working as individuals or in tiny firms.

Now that the mobile platform wars are all but over, battle lines for some of the next wars are forming. The cloud computing market is probably farthest along, with Amazon (AMZN) out to a sizable early lead. But also coming on strong are fights for supremacy in virtual and augmented reality, artificial intelligence and machine learning, and smart devices and the Internet of things.

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All three of these up and coming areas currently offer competing platforms from hoards of companies large and small. All three could potentially grow to be gigantic markets totaling tens of billions or even hundreds of billions of dollars over the next decade. And all three are top growth priorities for Intel CEO Brian Krzanich.

Listening to Krzanich’s almost two-hour long keynote address at Intel’s developer conference on Tuesday, the CEO has clearly learned the lesson of mobile: to win a platform war, first win over the software developers.

Every one of Krzanich’s demos, from the latest augmented reality collaboration with Microsoft (MSFT) to a self-driving car segment featuring BMW to an Internet of things pitch led by General Electric’s (GE) CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, ended with a single focus. Why does this matter to developers?

And most of Intel’s (INTC) newest chip sets and hardware gadgetry discussed in Tuesday’s keynote were also focused on helping developers.

Project Aero is a self-contained computer made especially for drones. Intel created the module, which can plug right into a drone to control the hardware, and software tools that developers can use to create their own drone applications like a program to monitor crops without needing to get into the low level, nitty gritty of flight controls or basic navigation features. Project Euclid, another self-contained computer module, is a similar effort for building robots and other smart devices. And the Curie project, yet another effort to build a developer platform, offered big data analysis and machine learning on a chip.

For more on Intel’s future plans, watch:

Even a smart cities project mentioned on Tuesday which involved attaching sensors and camera monitors to light poles could end up as a developer platform. Developers will be able to access generic data about traffic flows, air quality, and other items to create their own apps or online services. “These become platforms for use, but not only for cities and big companies, but developers themselves,” Krzanich promised.

There’s still a long way to go, and it’s never smart to judge new platforms and the accompanying software tools just from a high-profile, highly rehearsed demonstration. But it’s quite clear that in the latest platform wars, Krzanich at least has his nose pointed in the right direction.