Intel invokes Apple's Knowledge Navigator to envision future smartphones

More than 25 years after Apple introduced “Knowledge Navigator” as a concept that envisioned the future of computers, Intel has reintroduced the concept as the future of smartphones.

Smartphones in the future will be cognizant of surroundings, and be able to anticipate the needs of users, said Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of Intel’s mobile and communications group, during an onstage interview this week at the D: Dive Into Mobile conference organized by the All Things D website.

Smartphones will be “intelligent” and know when things need to get done, Bell said. Based on time, surroundings and a user’s location, smartphones could manage calendars, schedule events or even set up the air temperature in a home, all with minimal user intervention.

“We can essentially have a device that is much more aware of what is going on around you or aware of what you are doing,” Bell said. “It’s kind of the ‘real’ Knowledge Navigator in your pocket.”

The Knowledge Navigator was a concept introduced by Apple in 1987 that described new features such as touch and voice interaction, which are now reaching computers. The concept was described through videos of a person interacting with a tablet-like computer. Apple ultimately introduced the tablet category with the iPad. Some of the Knowledge Navigator concepts were also described at the time through TV shows such as Star Trek: The Next Generation.

Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of Intel's mobile and communications group

Bell, who previously worked at Apple, said the current “smartphone 2.0” model revolving around “there’s an app for that” needed to change. He painted a picture of what smartphones will be able to do.

“They know where you are, where you’re going, what you’re doing, who you know. They have all your information. Why can’t they do something useful with that? Why can’t it help you instead of waiting for you to realize you need to do something? The processing power and the speed of the connectivity and the fact that the technology lets us have the battery life we need to do this kind of stuff ... is all converging,” Bell said.

Some applications already exist to make smartphones more utilitarian, but Bell said more work needs to be done so handhelds can better anticipate human needs.

“Each of those applications right now has their own understanding, their own set of data. It’s not really done at a system level where everyone works from the same information so that the applications can work together to optimize this experience,” Bell said.

An enabler could be powerful smartphones with long battery life that can handle intense tasks like real-time translation, which is mostly relegated to the cloud at this time, Bell said.

With the PC market slumping, Intel is focusing more of its chip activity on mobile devices. The company has a small presence in the smartphone and tablet market, which is dominated by ARM.

Intel hopes to use its manufacturing advantage—which is considered the most advanced in the industry—to build smaller and faster chips. The company is releasing Atom chips for tablets and smartphones using the 22-nanometer process in the next 12 months, and hopes for a quick transition to the more advanced 14-nm process.

The company will start making chips for PCs using the 14-nm process late this year. The nanometer process refers to the underlying physics used in factories to create substrates on which chip features are etched.

“You’ll see over the course of the next 12 months as we roll out more of our own chips and technologies and then more customers building things based on those. We want to get our technology as far and wide as we can,” Bell said.

The “myth” that ARM is better than Intel on power efficiency has been “busted,” Bell said. Intel officials have used as a reference point the Motorola Razr I smartphone with an Atom chip, which the company insists has equal-to-better battery life than a Motorola Razr M, a similar phone based on Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 dual-core processor.

“We have as good a performance as anyone else, and it’s not necessarily the exact best battery life, but we’re near the top of the pack,” Bell said.

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