Three words may be found at the beating heart of California technology this week: Mobile, mobile, mobile. Everyone expects that from a certain Cupertino company, of course, and no one has much doubt about what those folks will show at its highly anticipated shindig tomorrow. But what's more significant, at least to long-time industry followers and enthusiasts, is that Intel, which is holding the annual American chapter of its Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in San Francisco from Tuesday through Thursday, is going for broke on the mobile front as well.
Chances are you won't see a single game-changing new product along the lines of Apple's iPhone from Intel's conference, which introduces, explains, and explores the myriad advances that will define the processing giant's output for the next year. But you will hear, time and time again, about all the reasons you should start thinking about Intel as a mobile company.
In isolation, this isn't exactly a shocking development. Since Intel began making its big push for Ultrabooks a couple of years ago, the company's direction has been unmistakably clear. But this will be one of the first opportunities that new CEO Brian Krzanich has had to make the public case since being elected in May, so the chances are excellent that he'll chart Intel's new direction in a dynamic and memorable way that will instantly set him apart from his predecessor, Paul Otellini.
The rest of the show will unavoidably follow suit. Most of the real news to emerge from the technical sessions and other deeper-delving events of the week will revolve around Intel's mobile platforms: Merrifield for smartphones and especially Bay Trail for tablets. The company's plan for branching out into these areas to better stay at the forefront of consumer demand will be front and centre throughout. Intel will need to make the case that whether your operating system of choice is Windows or Android, you'll have a superior experience.
That means that seeing what these devices have to offer, and how they compare with both more traditional PCs and their more immediately obvious mobile competition (the Apple iPad, the Google Nexus 7, and so on) could be the one thing at IDF that matters most. A new king of this hill won't be crowned this week, and only with time (and countless hours of intensive testing, on part of the tech press and ordinary consumers) will we see for sure how this all pans out, but don't be surprised if the battle for market supremacy becomes a lot more interesting.
This is not to say, however, that Intel's more familiar concepts won't be represented, too. There will be plenty of chatter about the already-released fourth-generation (codenamed "Haswell") processing family, and the impact it is already having and will continue to have on the larger systems that use it. But the thrust here, too, will be as it has been for a while on on-the-go computing: The super-svelte Ultrabook has been the primary beneficiary of Haswell's improved graphics system and power efficiency tools, and Intel won't let you forget that.
To the extent that time is spent discussing the desktop PC, the all-in-one (AIO) will be where it's at. Though market trends have favoured laptops for years now, and tablets are rapidly becoming many users' systems of choice, Apple's iMac and the many PCs it has inspired have reinvigorated interest in what's often considered a dormant (if not dead) form. Intel could easily propose bridging the gap between these systems and mobile devices, and convincingly argue that the AIO is the truly portable desktop PC in history. It could position the AIO as the next undiscovered country for builders and tweakers who want more control over their computers than tablets or smartphones allow. Or it could do both.
That would be an excellent way to unite the worlds that define Intel's past and (apparent) future. The company won't fail to address its many other offerings, from storage to software to security to embedded systems, and details about all these and more will trickle out over the course of the week. But above all else, Intel realises that tomorrow's computers will reside in your hand and in your pocket, and it will spend IDF making sure you know that it knows this. Even if it turns out to be the case that there's big excitement at IDF this year, it will come in smaller, more convenient packages than it ever has before.
Naturally, we will be covering IDF this week, including the keynote speeches, announcements, technical sessions, and more. Keep checking back for the latest news and commentary about what Intel has planned for 2014 and beyond.