Intel's new plan: Inside everything
The No. 1 chip maker sets its sights beyond the PC and into every digital gadget. Step 1, Apple.
(FORTUNE) Technology users, prepare to be sold. Intel, the world's most important semiconductor maker, has decided that it wants to be inside far more than just your PC. As a result, if you pay attention to anything having to do with digital gadgets, bits and bytes, software and hardware, starting this week Intel (Research) plans to make it damn near impossible to ignore the company's new message.
First a few facts. Intel CEO Paul Otellini will deliver a speech on Thursday at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas during which he'll unveil two new Intel brands, Viiv (rhymes with "alive") and Core. The former is what will be inside your PC from now on. The latter will be special chips that don't require a ton of power to run. Everybody expects to see Core pop up in Apple computers next year, the fruit of a six-month-old relationship between longtime antagonists Intel and Apple.
Topping off the name change will be a new corporate logo: Leap Ahead. Before getting ahead, though, consider the impact of the old logo, Intel Inside, one of the most successful "ingredient" marketing labels of all time. With the Intel Inside program, Intel essentially promised PC makers that in return for buying Intel's chips Intel would help pay to market the PCs to consumers and businesses alike. As a result, customers actually came to want an Intel chip. That's as astounding as a car buyer requesting a certain make of engine or an art customer specifying the brand of paint the artist should use. But it worked. Spectacularly.
But single-purpose PCs are so 1999, so Intel is moving on. Leap Ahead means everything else: TVs, DVRs, cable set-top boxes, cell phones, PDAs, networked stereo systems. You name it, Intel wants its chips – and the software and other components around them – to be at the center of whatever device you buy.
Here's the problem: Leap Ahead really means putting Intel Inside Everything. And that's going to be easier said than done. Intel's hegemony in PCs resulted from perhaps the most perfect storm the computer industry has ever known. Having made a bold move out of memory chips, Intel positioned itself perfectly as the dominant supplier of microprocessors, the brains of the personal computer. Becoming as dominant inside every other gadget will be another matter altogether. Here are a few companies planning to keep Intel outside: Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Broadcom, IBM, Freescale, AMD. And those are just the well known chip makers, each with their own specialties in the areas Intel is trying to invade.
When Otellini takes the stage in Vegas, he'll undoubtedly talk about his concept of platforms. This is new Intelspeak for all the stuff that comes along with its chips. A microprocessor that makes wireless functions on a laptop work today and that's a Pentium M. But the same chip along with a radio and other components Intel has packaged with it is a Centrino. Viiv and Core are intended to be similar platforms. Centrino was a grand slam as Intel correctly assumed the popularity of WiFi. However, Intel sold Centrino to the same customers it had been selling to for years, PC makers. Selling the new platforms will be a new experience.
It's possible that Intel will be as successful with its Leap Ahead as it was with the Pentiums that powered Intel Inside. But it's going to take a lot of selling. Last year at CES Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina used rocker Gwen Stefani to help introduce an HP-branded iPod, a product her successor, Mark Hurd, promptly killed. Otellini has reportedly recruited hip-hop artists Black Eyed Peas to help sell Leap Ahead. Enjoy the show.