News that Intel is throwing the towel on wearables and axing its New Devices Group shouldn't be shocking; the company has long struggled to make a splash outside of pushing processors, which has always been its core competence. Yet its latest project to be revealed, a lightweight pair of AR smartglasses, gave us every reason to believe the passions were still burning. Had Intel finally made the smartglasses we'd been waiting for? We'll never know.
Intel's New Devices Group was formed in 2013 with a goal to develop products like fitness trackers and smartglasses, but over the years most of the company's contributions to wearables have been found in partnerships - some of which were actually neat. It teamed up with Oakley for the Radar Pace smart sunglasses, a product I personally loved. It also provided the chip in Tag Heuer's modular smartwatches, a rare deviation from the majority of Qualcomm-powered Wear OS smartwatches.
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Some were more experimental: in 2016 the company worked with designer Hussein Chalayan on smartglasses and belts that changed colors to show the stress levels of models on a runway. It was nice to see Intel putting effort into something it knew would never be a mass-market product.
But after a string of these products and partnerships - some good, some less so - it's seen business sense to call it quits. What's weird is that this isn't the first time we've heard about Intel backing away from wearables: in 2016 TechCrunch claimed that Intel was stepping back, something the company denied at the time. Then in 2017, a report from CNBC revealed that Intel had laid off 80% of the team that made the Basis smartwatch.
The Basis smartwatch was undoubtedly Intel's biggest stumble. Intel swallowed wearable maker Basis Science in 2014 and out came the Basis Peak smartwatch. The Peak's biggest strength as a smartwatch was its four-to-five day battery life - about what you'd get today with Fitbit's smartwatches - while offering heart rate and other fitness tracking. It also knew when you were starting and ending exercises, no input necessary.
It had a lot of problems, but it had a lot of strengths too. Then some started overheating and Intel had to call them back, and I think it's fair to assume it blew the company's confidence. Since then, its focus has primarily been on partnerships.
That's why the 'Superlight' smartglasses were so exciting; they felt like the next "big" product to come out of Intel since the Peak. Earlier this year, The Verge reported that Intel was pursuing partnerships with glasses makers to bring them to market, and the technology seemed ready to go. More's the pity.
In 2013, Intel's foray into wearables felt prescient; Fitbit was taking off, Google Glass wasn't yet the butt of every wearable tech joke. Cutting away the New Devices Group will help Intel to focus on its strengths and, in a time where the PC market is struggling, go harder on other bets like autonomous vehicles. It may not leave a gaping hole in the wearable world, but damn, those glasses looked great.
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