Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Phones And Tablets Are Getting Faster. Thank god.

CES is going on as we speak... I mean write... and by we, I mean I, since you aren't writing. Well, you might be writing. I don't know.

One of the biggest companies that is presenting is Intel, who is showing off integrated television technology about which no one gives even a single shit, and their newest line of processors, about which almost everyone gives at least one shit. Their upcoming processors offer a performance increase over the previous generation of, at most, 15%. This may seem pretty cool, since desktop processors usually moved in increments that large, but it's not. It's boring.

Compare this to other technology markets. Hard drives halve their prices every year while seeing 25% increases in storage capacity. I have two 2TB hard drives in my desktop right now that cost me less than $300 in total. And yet an Intel processor released a year and a half ago is still selling for the same price.

I have frequently suspected that, at least recently, the reason for this comparatively slow progress was that Intel utterly dominated the processor market. Other companies just could not get their act together in any signficant way. Just look at the graveyard of broken processor companies: Cyrix, Transmeta, VIA, IDT. And in almost all cases, their performance lagged Intel's chips. Even today, with only AMD remaining, AMD's chips cannot compete clock-for-clock. Intel is king.

What is a consumer to do? Grin and bear it? That's what we've been doing with Intel for years. Unfortunately, we cannot simply refuse to buy their products. Those of us in the know can buy our own processors from AMD (which I have done), but for the average person who simply wants a laptop to watch Downton Abbey on, they're stuck. It's Intel or nothing.

This tyranny is one of the reasons I suspect so many companies are jumping all over the tablet/cellphone bandwagon. There is no Intel hegemony. Indeed, Intel can't crack into this market to save their life. And precisely because the other companies are tired of dealing with Intel is one of the reasons, I suspect, that they are being less than accommodating.

Another reason is that I think Intel has forgotten what it means to compete. AMD and Nvidia have been going at it for years, doubling their GPU performance nearly every year. We are seeing the same thing in the portable technology space. Processors and GPU's see gains of double, triple, quadruple, every year.

That's the reason why the tablet space is so exciting while the laptop and desktop market is contracting. Because it is energetic! Every year sees something new. Innovation is driving things ever forward. Games on a cell phone look like the first games that came out for the Xbox 360. In two years, cell phones will be more powerful than the Xbox 360. We aren't seeing anything even remotely like that coming out of the old-guard companies.

I am so excited about portable processing. Not because I use it extensively. Truly, I don't. I spend almost all of my time on a desktop and a laptop. But we need something, anything, to get AMD and Intel off their damned asses and really push forward -- really innovate. While I didn't expect it even only a year ago, it is now obvious; the motivation, the fear, necessary to get the old companies to step up their game in the traditional computing industry will come from portable technology. It will come from your pocket.

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