Oakley Airwave

Intel hires wearable computing talent, but it's late to the game

Intel said Friday that it has hired a pair of high-level engineers from Nike and Oakley to assist the company with building wearable computing devices.

Intel said that it had hired Hans Moritz, described as the man who led development of the Oakley AirWave heads-up goggles, to work at the “new devices” team being formed within Intel. Moritz has spent his entire 16-year career at Oakley, where he most recently led the integration of the Oakley Airwave smart ski goggles pictured above.

At Intel, Moritz will join Steven Holmes, most recently of Nike, where he was responsible for the end-to-end development of the Nike GPS Sportswatch as well as the Fuelband fitness tracker accessory. Holmes was hired by Intel a year ago. The Moritz hire was reported by the Intel Free Press, described as a news organization within Intel run by former members of its communications team.

Both will work for Michael Bell, a former vice president at Apple and former senior vice president for product development at Palm, who leads the “new devices” outfit. So far, Intel has said only that it plans a Roku-like set-top box to stream video to TVs.

At the time of his hire in 2010, Bell’s mission was to “lead a team with the charter to build breakthrough smartphone reference designs with the explicit intent of accelerating Intel Architecture into the market.” Since then, however, his role has apparently broadened into the taking Intel’s chips into new product areas, regardless of which products they fall into.

Intel has struggled somewhat in the embedded and mobile space, as low-power RISC designs from ARM and other embedded architectures have moved into phones and other devices. To answer, Intel has developed a series of low-power Atom processors to bring full X86 compatibility to the embedded market. Next week, at the Intel Developer Forum, the company has scheduled press briefings on Bay Trail, a next-generation Atom processor designed for phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.

So far, however, Intel has said nothing about whether or not the Atom can play inside smartwatches or eyewear like Google Glass, which have even more demanding space and power requirements than even miniature tablets. Intel, for its part, has been a heavy promoter of failed devices like Mobile Internet Devices, and, most recently, ultrabooks. Intel’s existing Clover Trail+ processor for phones has scored design wins in Asia, but not within the United States—in part because of a lack of integrated LTE connectivity.

“Intel has a history of trying to dictate to the market; we just enable people to do stuff,” said James Bruce, a director of mobile strategy for ARM, in an interview this week.

It’s not clear whether or not Intel will adopt the same strategy in wearable computing. Moritz didn’t design the heads-up display within the AirWave; that was done by Recon Instruments, which has its own line of HUD modules that project information onto glasses through a series of connected microprojectors. But the knowledge of Holmes and Moritz will at point Intel in the right direction. Whether it or not can catch up is another question.

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