Industry needs to step up and save the PC, says Intel exec

Intel CTO Justin Rattner says new tech is on way to boost the PC industry

If the PC industry can't come up with a better way to make the PC a part of our Internet-crazed lives, then it will continue down its current path to becoming a has-been in the high-tech world.

That's the message from Intel CTO Justin Rattner, who will present a keynote address at the annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco on Thursday.

"I think that it's basically incumbent on Intel and the PC industry in general to deliver a competitive platform capability," Rattner told Computerworld on Wednesday. "If you can't deliver a comparable or better experience on a PC, the PC isn't going to win."

The PC market has struggled through several years of a slow economy and is being squarely hit by the burgeoning tablet and smartphone markets. Consumers, and even some enterprises, are so in love with their smaller, more portable devices that they've delayed upgrading their PCs and are instead spending their IT budgets on iPads or smartphones.

That trend is taking its toll on PC makers, as well as chip makers like Intel.

Last month, industry analyst firm IHS iSuppli downgraded its 2012 forecast for the worldwide semiconductor market, blaming slumping economic conditions and chip revenue. The global chip market, which had been expected to grow by less than 3% for the year, now is projected to decline by 0.1%, iSuppli reported.

Late last week, and just days before IDF kicked off, Intel offered an indication that it had been affected by that market downturn when it lowered its third-quarter revenue forecast.

Rattner didn't back away from talking about the challenges that face the PC industry. He acknowledged that it's more convenient to reach into your pocket or handbag for a smartphone or tablet to check messages when you're on the go.

"If I get back to my desk and I don't have a lot of time and my PC has been off, it's much easier to pick up my phone and look at the mail and see if there's anything urgent," he said. "I don't even power up my PC. You begin to see people segregating their workloads. Things like mail and messaging seem to be much easier on phones and tablets, and not so easy on PCs."

So what does the PC industry need to do? According to Rattner, the industry is already taking steps to renew interest in PCs.

For example, computer makers are building PCs with always-on technology, better battery life and better standby time.

"The pressure is really on," said Rattner. "We took the first steps, but there's more to do. We need to show some of the next steps."

One of those steps might accompany the upcoming release of Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system, which will support touchscreen tablets and laptops.

As Microsoft gets ready to release Windows 8 in October, PC vendors are being pushed to come out with innovative laptop and ultrabook designs that include keyboards and touchable panels.

Intel is betting that touch will be a huge win for the PC industry.

"We believe it's potentially game-changing," said Karen Regis, consumer client marketing manager at Intel. "Intel has gone to great lengths to secure capacity two or three times the projected demand for touch because we think there's going to be such a big upside."

Touch, she added, is going to be a huge boost for laptops and especially ultrabooks.

Patrick Moorhead, an analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy, agreed that Intel has reason to be excited about touch.

"If Microsoft can motivate developers to create high-quality apps, then there is a lot to be excited about," he added. "PC users are very comfortable with touch on phones and tablets and are looking for that on PCs. Ask yourself, 'How many times have you reached up and tried to touch your laptop screen?'"

Touch, said Moorhead, could take some of the intrigue away from the tablet and put it squarely on its predecessor, the PC.

However, Zeus Kerravala, an analyst at ZK Research, was doubtful about the PC's prospects.

"I think Intel is too optimistic," said Kerravala. "Laptops aren't great devices for today's consumer. I think ultrabooks have a shot, since they're driven by cloud, but I see laptops remaining slow.... I think [Intel] is off base."

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin and on Google+, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

See more by Sharon Gaudin on Computerworld.com.

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