Athena inside: Intel and Google partner up to build the perfect Chromebook

Acer Chromebook

Acer Chromebook

  • CES sees the first Intel Athena Chromebooks launched
  • As cloud-enabled devices Chromebooks - perhaps with 5G and Wi-Fi 6 built in - may be the companions edge services have been waiting for
  • And edge services connected by 5G might be a major spur for the Chromebook market

This week’s CES 2020 is seeing Intel and Google forge an important alliance for Chromebooks: a development which might play nicely with telco plans to use the cloud-connected 5G edge as the launchpad for a new generation of applications, both business and consumer.

Powerful edge facilities and super-low latency should put telcos in a handy position to profitably host Independent software vendors of all stamps looking to provide high value, high performance applications for their customers and using telcos as partners to get to them. Highly capable Chromebooks may prove the perfect client type for many users and their edge applications. 

Intel, having sold its mobile processor business to Apple and observing the changes overtaking the mobile processor market (more on that tomorrow) is now assessing how it might revive one market where it’s still the indisputable Daddy - PCs. 

Microsoft and Intel originally hatched and built an empire based on the PC market only to see it overtaken by the smartphone. Microsoft proved itself unable to make the leap to the smartphone (despite several tries) and neither, really, has Intel. Up to now, smartphones have been powered mostly by Qualcomm and ARM. 

But all is not lost. The growth might not be what it once was, but PCs (especially laptops) are still a huge market and it’s not unreasonable to think that Intel (perhaps with a lot of help from Google) can breathe some excitement back into it on the laptop side. That, at least, appears to be the plan.

Last year Intel with great fanfare pumped up something called Project Athena. It’s essentially  a set of requirements for partner brands in the laptop segment. Intel calls them “Athena design specifications and target experiences” to be incorporated into products in 2020, we wrote at the time (see - The chip IS the computer). 

Well, here we are in 2020 and at CES Google and Intel have just announced that they would work more closely together from here on to design chips and specs for Chromebooks which conform to Intel’s specs. Laptops and 2-in-1s built to the high-performance specs will be carefully designed to tackle not just work applications, but media streaming, along with a host of features so friendly that they’ll jump up and lick your face. 

Things like ‘fast wake’ instigated by your fingerprint, better battery life, built in Wi-Fi 6, touch displays (in Google’s case Chromebooks will all be running Android as an option). In a way it’s about applying classic breakneck smartphone development and customer focus to the laptop segment. 

Devices conforming to Athena - especially Google’s Chromebooks and Chromeboxes - may be the perfect client companions to the applications soon to be mustering at the telco edge. 

At CES two Chromebooks from Samsung and Asus, both freshly designed to incorporate those specs have already been announced and Google says there will be many more where they came from.

Meanwhile, telcos are seeing the potential of edge compute and 5G (and other access types) to transform their own businesses by enhancing the value of connectivity through lower latency and higher speeds. 

“What happens when the Independent software vendors actually start to make [edge enabled]  innovations happen?” asked Michael Sherman, BT Group’s Chief Strategy and Transformation Officer at  the recent TelecomTV Great Telco Debate where the future of telco business models was one of the main topics of conversation (see Cloud native is a must do as CSPs transition into DSPs). 

The edge is where we think the real excitement comes, says Sherman. “You have this massive amount of compute power only 2 to 3 milliseconds away from you. So imagine a supercomputer within 3 milliseconds reach. At that point we can create new things that we couldn’t previously imagine, and that’s really where we’re trying to get these ISV communities really engaged and working with us.”

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