AMD's Shortcut to the Future Strategy

By Rob Enderle February 07, 2012

Last week, AMD had the coming out party for their new CEO and executive team.   The subtle message that came through the event had to do with ARM and a growing belief that the market is moving to a post-Intel world.   Clearly, Intel is going to dispute this and is working aggressively to ensure not only their relevance but dominance, but AMD’s strategy is sound as they, with current resources, can never catch Intel from behind but they might be able to get to a new or emerging, and as yet undefined, market first. In short when chasing someone faster the only way you’ll likely win is if you can find a more direct route to the goal.   In short, AMD is looking for a shortcut to the future. 

AMD Showcase

The night before the event, AMD had a showcase of technologies, but two of them stood out to me as potentially disruptive.    The first was an implementation of a SmartTV, not as a standalone product as most do it, but as an integrated part of the future connected home. The second was their Surface showcase, which provided a different view of what a future home PC or gaming system might be and opened the door to a more advanced gaming experience than others are currently considering.

I am convinced that Microsoft is missing a huge Atari-like opportunity with Surface which could transform home gaming; it also could be part of an even more integrated future, one that is partially demonstrated in the latest Day Made of Glass video from Corning.  

This video goes that extra step and I think speaks more aggressively to the world that AMD is contemplating.   AMD’s CEO has a cute catch phrase for this: Shift Happens

Alternative Future

Currently, the market is bifurcated between x86 vendors like Intel and AMD, and ARM vendors like NVIDIA, Qualcomm, Freescale, and Marvell.   However, the consumer really doesn’t care what technology powers their amazing new devices; they just care about the experience and right now that experience is limited because these devices don’t interoperate that well.   But a future like the one in the above Corning video is founded on the idea that everything interoperates with everything else; the technology underneath is transparent and appropriate to the device, not restrictive, but encompassing. 

Once your imagination expands to the idea of what you could do if tablets, TVs, PCs, and yes even smart windows, walls, and tabletops interoperate with each other and the rest of the world’s technology, you see the potential for something to emerge like Corning’s imagined world.   A place where you use the surface most useful for a task and the technology underneath becomes more magical and invisible.  

What is magic really? It is amazing things happening in an unexplained way and once you don’t have to explain how things work or why they don’t interoperate, then everything in technology by default starts to become both more amazing and magical.   It just works.    Granted, we’ll likely still need folks like Steve Jobs to help us see the magic, because engineers will want to spoil it by explaining the science, but for those of you who can tune the engineers out, over the next decade or so, the world should appear more magical. 

AMD’s Strategy

While AMD didn’t expressly talk about what they were going to do with ARM during their event, they did imply something new, something different and something potentially amazing.   What seemed implied was that they would integrate across ARM and x86 technologies in a way that could make both more transparent and both more interoperable and interchangeable.   The end result would be devices that would both be better optimized for their given tasks but might be able to change -- either up or down -- their performance as their duties changed.   For instance, imagine a device that operated on an ARM core in a sustained always-on mode, but when the user actively wanted to use it, shifted to x86 mode when needed.    But it wouldn’t just be between core types because AMD has been leading the effort to create APUs, the blending of GPU and CPU technology, so that the system, regardless of whether it was running an ARM or an x86 CPU, could also leverage GPU resources as needed given the entire anticipated AMD ecosystem far more flexibility than any of their competitors.  

If that is where the market wants to move, and the Corning video makes for a compelling vision, this would create a world where AMD instead of being a follower was a leader and where the other vendors were chasing them for once.   

Wrapping Up:   Execution

Getting to this goal will require a very high level of execution and AMD is starting with a fresh team.   It is very difficult to change a company let alone change a market but this is likely AMD’s only real chance to help create a world where AMD is no longer the underdog.   Rory Read, AMD’s new charismatic CEO will have his work cut out for him and he’ll need to make sure the folks hat are championing his efforts are committed to them. He’ll also have to paint a more compelling picture than he has so far done so his customers and market influences resonate and create this AMD favorable future.   That is all to come but, for now, this is a very interesting start. 

Rob Enderle is President and Principal Analyst for the Enderle Group. To read more of his articles on TechZone360, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Rich Steeves

President and Principal Analyst, Enderle Group

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