In an action-packed keynote address at the Consumer Electronics Show, Intel president and chief executive officer Craig Barrett last week insisted that the PC era is still alive and well, and called on some star-studded help to usher in what he called the "extended PC era".
Intel continued the CES theme by highlighting a wide range of its latest gadgets and gizmos. Among the army of digital devices shown on stage were Intel's new digital Pocket Concert Audio Player, and prototypes of a mobile phone-based PDA (personal digital assistant) and a wireless Web tablet. While the products would appear far from the chip giant's usual forte, Barrett insisted that they serve only to complement the PC and make it more useful to end users.
"If you look at the centre of the digital universe, the core is really the PC," he said. "What we are seeing today is more and more devices being attached to the PC and extending its influence. The key to all of these devices is to have a very powerful central processing unit."
The products on display here this week might seem to contradict Barrett's assertion that the PC will remain at the centre of all things. The showroom floor is lined with a myriad of Web-enabled devices that pack increasingly large amounts of memory and processing power in small form factors. The devices allow users to check e-mail and news reports, shop on the Web and download multimedia content on the move with little hassle.
Barrett, however, believes that the added processing power offered by Intel's recently launched Pentium 4 chip will give users reason to embrace the PC as a means of complementing these varying devices.
For instance, Barrett showed what could happen when a digital camera combines with peer-to-peer networking and a Pentium 4 computer. A user could take a digital video of a wedding in Hawaii, load it on his or her PC and then send it instantly to friends.
"The Pentium 4 increases the number of people who can view the video at the same time and how fast it runs," he said. "The PC really acts as the central nervous system for entertainment in the home."
To help make his point, Barrett brought performance art trio the Blue Man Group on stage for several music-backed interludes between the displays of Intel's technology. The Blue Man Group is featured in a number of Pentium III TV advertisements and is a popular attraction for visitors of Las Vegas.
After splattering paint across the stage and shooting confetti into the audience, the troop pinned Barrett down and seemingly ran a small camera down his throat and into his stomach. The CES crowd watched the camera make its way down Barrett's esophagus and into his belly, only to receive a comic surprise when the "Intel Inside" logo appeared on giant screens lining the conference room hall.
In addition to the audio player announced earlier this week and shown here last week, Intel makes a number of PC-complementing devices. Barrett's staff brought out digital cameras, music players, a line of hi-tech children's toys and other concept devices. In most cases, a user can store data on the device and then use a PC to transfer the information to friends and colleagues around the globe. With intensive multimedia applications also on the rise, it may indeed be premature to count the PC out just yet.
At a press conference after his keynote, Barrett said the company's goal is not to become a significant player in the consumer electronics industry.
"I'm not concerned about our ability to be successful in that part of market," he said. "What we are really trying to do is promote new uses, new users for the PC; we're not trying to extend our business to consumer electronics."
About 80 per cent of the company's revenue today comes from PC-related components, with about 20 per cent coming from networking, communications and consumer products, he said. In the future, the proportion of Intel's non-PC related revenue will continue to be small," he said.
PC sales will continue to be strong in the future, in part because vast markets like India and China are only just starting to come online and present substantial opportunities for PC makers, he said.
"I think the future of the PC is very bright. The message I was trying to give tonight is that although some people write about the death of the PC, the fact is we continue to sell more PCs each year, we increase the value of the PC by adding devices."