New Open Connectivity Foundation combines Open Interconnect Consortium and AllSeen Alliance

Update 21 February 2016 — I received email from Sophie Sleck of Blanc & Otis:

OCF is not unifying OIC and AllSeen, this is not a merger of two groups. The technology leaders who have been specifying software protocols for the Internet of Things announced they are now working together to form a new entity. OCF is the successor to OIC; it’s initiatives are about solidifying and trying to reduce fragmentation in the industry.

Also, Meredith Solberg of the Linux Foundation wrote to correct me:

I represent AllSeen Alliance and just wanted to reach out in response to your article with a correction that there has been no merger with AllSeen Alliance. AllSeen is not combining with OIC to form OCF and we remain a separate organization. We do, however, have some overlap with members in common. If you could please issue a correction and include a correction note to your Twitter followers, we’d greatly appreciate it! Want to remain transparent and share accurate info.

So, OCF is the successor to OIC, and we will have to wait for the cooperation between OCF and AllSeen to lead to yet another organization/consortium/foundation/whozis.


A new milestone in the maturation of the Internet of Things has been reached: two contending organizations — the Open Interconnect Consortium (backed by Intel and others), and the AllSeen Alliance (back by Qualcomm and others) are merging to form the Open Connectivity Foundation. (See correction above.)
This is a big step, and one that may help break the logjam in the market. After all, consumers are justifiably concerned about making a bet in home automation — for example — if they are unsure about how various devices may or may not interoperate.
Aaron Tilley points out that IoT has seemed to be, so far, all hat and no cattle:

In some ways, the Internet of Things still feels like empty tech jargon. It’s hard to lump all these different, disparate things together and talk about them in a meaningful way. Maybe once all these things really begin talking to each other, the term will be more appropriate. But for now, there is still a mess in the number of standards out there in the Internet of Things. People have frequently compared it to the VHS-Betamax videotape format war of the 1980s.

The VHS-Betamax format war was not solved by standardization, it was the VHS vendors making the devil’s bargain with porn companies. The OCF may be more like the creation of the SQL standard, where a number of slightly different implementations of relational database technology decided to standardize on the intersection of the various products, and that led to corporations to invest when before they had been stalling.
The consortium includes — beside Intel and Qualcomm — ARRIS, CableLabs, Cisco, Electrolux, GE Digital, Samsung, and Microsoft.
Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President, Windows and Devices Group at Microsoft announced the company’s participation in the creation of the OCF, and spelling out Microsoft’s plans:

We have helped lead the formation of the OCF because we believe deeply in its vision and the potential an open standard can deliver. Despite the opportunity and promise of IoT to connect devices in the home or in businesses, competition between various open standards and closed company protocols have slowed adoption and innovation. […]
Windows 10 devices will natively interoperate with the new OCF standard, making it easy for Windows to discover, communicate, and orchestrate multiple IoT devices in the home, in business, and beyond. The OCF standards will also be fully compatible with the 200 million Windows 10 devices that are “designed for AllSeen” today.
We are designing Windows 10 to be the ideal OS platform for Things, and the Azure IoT platform to be the best cloud companion for Things, and for both of them to interoperate with all Things.

Microsoft was late to the party on mobile, but Nadella’s leadership seems to be all about getting in early on other emerging technologies, like IoT, machine learning, and modern productivity.
Noticeably absent are the other Internet giants: Apple, Amazon, and Google. When will they get on board?

Unflattering news you may have missed due to yesterday’s Apple event noise

Apple events are the gifts that keep on giving. It’s handy for us tech bloggers because it gives us a chance to dust off our Easy-Bake Ovens and cook up a batch of hot takes on developments that will impact many sectors of tech for at least the next nine months.
It’s also handy for any non-Apple company that wants to make an unflattering or unpopular news announcement in under the media and the public’s radars.
I mean, just look at the resources that go into covering Apple’s events. It seems like most publications run liveblogs, which vary from serious transcriptions of whatever’s happening onstage to off-key banter that’s barely related to Apple. Then there are the photos, the longer posts, the columns, the features… phew. The rest of the world seems to stop when Apple takes the stage.
For instance, we observed three instances where unflattering news announcements by non-Apple companies coincided with yesterday’s media event. (For the record, we don’t know if it was intentional, but the timing was definitely convenient, regardless.)
First was the news that 21st Century Fox has acquired a majority stake in National Geographic, the iconic magazine run by a nonprofit organization for more than a century. Fox will own 73 percent of the National Geographic Group and reportedly plans to turn the flagship magazine into a for-profit venture.
People are understandably worried about how this new ownership might change National Geographic. Some are concerned about Rupert Murdoch’s personal views coloring the magazine’s coverage; others are worried that Fox’s habit of misleading viewers could transfer to the centenarian publication.
Then there was the announcement that Intel plans to stop supporting the Science Talent Search, an annual competition in which high school seniors compete for prizes, it has sponsored since 1998. (The event itself dates back to 1942 — not as old as National Geographic, but still fairly well established.)
The society behind the Science Talent Search is looking for a new sponsor now . It seeks $6 million annually and a five-year commitment. Intel plans to keep its sponsorship going until 2017; after that the company’s checkbook will close.
And finally there was the death of a much younger entity: Amazon’s Fire Phone — a giant black eye for Amazon’s otherwise successful push into gadget-making. The pet project that never managed to catch on despite rock bottom pricing, access to all of Amazon’s content stores, and a heavy marketing push is done.
Amazon revealed yesterday that it has sold through its entire stock of Fire Phones — despite all odds — and that it doesn’t plan to make any more of them. That doesn’t come as much of a surprise given the phone’s lack of popularity, but the company’s decision to announce that the same day the new iPhones came out seems to indicate just a little bit of shame about the product’s failure.
For all of the panache shown on Apple’s stage and the company’s ability to drum up desire for new products with just a quick presentation, sometimes it’s more fun to see what other companies are trying to bury (intentionally or otherwise) during those keynotes.

What you need to know about Intel’s new mobile chips

Intel announced its plans for 2015 at Mobile World Congress on Monday and one of its bigger announcements is that its long-awaited mobile-focused system on a chip will ship in devices before the end of the year. As more smartphones start to be powered by Intel-designed silicon, here’s what you need to know:

What they’ll be called

Intel announced that its mobile product branding will match its Core desktop processor branding, with various tiers labeled with x3, x5, and x7 model numbers. Intel previously referred to its mobile SoC as SoFIA, which was a codename. When it ships, it will be sold under the Atom X3 moniker.

Atom-X3

The similarly named Atom X7 and the Atom X5 are different chips, without integrated radios, and with a much different focus. The Atom X5 and Atom X7 will probably land in tablets and laptops, not smartphones, running “full Windows and Android.” They figure to be a lower-cost alternative to Intel’s Core M line. If those devices need LTE connectivity, they will be powered by a separate modem. 

Intel’s SoC is for low end devices

Intel stood by while Qualcomm took over the mobile chip market the last few years, and although it’s starting to catch up, it’s not going toe-to-toe in the high end. “They’re still setting the pace,”  Intel VP Aicha Evans told PC World. “I am happy they’re no longer years ahead of us; we’re now talking months.”

The x86-based Atom X3 is headed for phones selling for as little as $75. There will be three Atom X3 chips, two of which will ship with an integrated 3G radio, as opposed to the speedier LTE radios now standard in developed markets. (An Atom X3 with an LTE radio that supports up to 14 LTE bands is promised for the second half of 2015.)

The graphics processor designs for the Atom X3, however, will be provided by ARM. All three Atom X3 chips will include various Mali GPUs.

For now, the 64-bit capable Atom X3 is only for Android devices, but the LTE version will support Windows 10 phones as well — possibly shaking up Qualcomm’s monopoly so far on Microsoft’s mobile OS it should support up to 14 LTE bands on a single chip. But even the LTE-equipped versions of the Atom X3 should be affordable with devices retailing for under $150.

Intel-Atom-X3-pricing

Anteing up to table stakes

Intel’s been talking up its SoFIA processor since 2013, and it’s different from previous Intel mobile processors because it’s an integrated chip. Although Intel has made processors and separate modems for mobile devices in the past, the Atom X3 integrates them on the same chip, matching similar SoC products from Qualcomm, MediaTek, and others.

Last year, Atom chips started popping up in many tablets — pushing the company to the number two spot in terms of tablet chip market share — running both Android and Windows, but they were bolstered by Intel’s costly decision to essentially subsidize manufacturers using Intel chips. Last fall, Intel also announced an Asus phone with an Intel LTE modem, which also landed in certain tablets. But putting the modem and processor on the same chip is a big leap forward for Intel, and one that opens up many possibilities.

unnamed

Intel will continue to sell standalone parts for manufacturers, including a new LTE modem, the XMM 7350, as well as separate GPS and NFC controllers.

Intel inside — helped by Rockchip

Intel’s Atom processors are largely fabricated by TSMC, thanks to its 28nm process, instead of in its own fabs. But the Atom X3 marks yet a another subtle change to Intel’s strategy. As expected when the partnership was announced last year, Intel will license some of its intellectual property to Chinese chip maker Rockchip, which also licenses chip designs from ARM, by the way.

Rockchip doesn’t own its own fabs, but it will be responsible for the Atom X3-C3230RK, a quad-core version of the entry level 3G Atom X3, and presumably getting it installed in low-cost Chinese “white-box” devices — something the company specializes in.

Atom chips might be fast, but battery life is up in the air

If you’ve used an Intel-powered Android tablet, you know that its battery life can’t stand up to a ARM-based tablet. That looks like the case for Intel’s new Atom processors too, based on the fact the company is playing up performance instead. Intel compared its Atom X3 to Qualcomm’s low-end Snapdragon 200, and says it is 1.5 times faster, according to benchmarks.

However, you rarely hear smartphone users ask for more raw processing power. Usually, they’d rather have a few more hours of battery life. But Intel hasn’t released power tests for its new chips yet.

The devices

Intel hasn’t officially announced the first devices to use its Atom X3 SoC, but it says that “twenty companies” including Asus and Jolla — and probably a good number of less famous Chinese manufacturers like Quanta and Pegatron — will be making them.

MWC-2015-ticker

Looks like AWS is ready to roll out spiffy new Intel C4 instances

New, muscular Intel Haswell-based C4 instances are now available to the masses — or will be soon– depending on whether an Amazon Web Services blog post that went up, then came down, on Friday morning is accurate.

From the post:

The new C4 instances are based on the Intel Xeon E5-2666 v3 (code name Haswell) processor. This custom processor, optimized for EC2, runs at a base speed of 2.9 GHz, and can achieve clock speeds as high as 3.5 GHz with Turbo Boost. These instances are designed to deliver the highest level of processor performance on EC2.

The new EC2 lineup  was “pre-announced” by Intel GM and VP Diane Bryant at AWS Re:invent in November. At that time, however, neither Bryant nor Amazon CTO Werner Vogels provided much detail about the C4 instances, saying only that [company]Intel[/company] and [company]Amazon[/company] collaborated on design to make sure the chip was optimized for AWS use. I’ve asked AWS for comment and will update this as needed. The pricing disclosed on the blog post is as follows:

 

aws c4 instance pricing

The fact that [company]Amazon[/company], which used to announce things only when they were ready to roll, has taken to pre-announcing products, shows just how much the company has evolved into an IT provider in the mold of [company]Microsoft[/company], which was famous for introducing products early. Of course, the lag time in cloud is a fraction of what it was in the client-server era, so an announcement in mid-November for delivery in early January — if the disappearing post is accurate — really isn’t so bad.

Intellectual Ventures founder steps down: “market is tough right now”

Peter Detkin, a lawyer and former Intel executive, is standing down as vice chairman from the notorious patent trolling venture he co-founded alongside three others, including one-time Microsoft exec Nathan Myhrvold, in 2000.

As IAM Magazine reports, Detkin will quit his post at Intellectual Ventures as of January 1, 2015, but will stay involved in the company’s decision making process. Detkin also denied the existence of rifts within IV following a rough year for the company:

However, Detkin stated categorically that his decision was not prompted by a falling out with the other IV founders or any worries about the firm’s future. “I am in it for the long term and have complete faith in our business model – which is needed and promotes investment in innovation. The market is tough right now, but I believe that the pendulum will swing back,” he said.

Detkin’s departure comes after a year in which IV had to lay off a significant portion of its workforce, and after the company struggled to raise money for its newest patent fund, in part because Apple and other one-time investors refused to participate in the fund.

More broadly, Intellectual Ventures and Detkin himself remain unpopular due to the company’s controversial business model, which entails arming thousands of shell companies with old patents in order to demand licensing payments from productive businesses.

While Intellectual Ventures initially earned buzz over the prospect of using patents to crowdsource genius, the company’s tactics quickly came to be perceived by many as a form of legal extortion that harmed innovation. Detkin himself figured prominently in a widely-publicized This American Life documentary called “When Patents Attack” that helped bring the problem of patent trolls to mainstream attention.

In response to a request for details about Detkin’s departure, an Intellectual Ventures spokesperson said the company had nothing to add.

In recent months, Intellectual Ventures has set its sites on emerging tech areas like wearable computers, even as Republicans in Congress vow to revive a patent reform bill that nearly passed in the spring, but was derailed by Sen. Harry Reid (D-Nv) at the behest of patent trolls and trial lawyers.

Intel’s bracelet for fashionistas can receive texts

The new MICA is a connected bracelet that will go on sale at high-end department stores like Barney’s and small boutiques. At first glance, it looks less like a gadget and more like a piece of jewelry.