Intel axes Arduino and Curie in continued IoT product line rethink

Intel has added its Arduino maker board market to the IoT scrap heap. The development board had been intended to be a rival to the likes of Raspberry Pi, but the product is now being scrapped after little interest from the community. The move comes as the final nail in the coffin for Intel’s IoT maker market after killing off Edison, Galileo and Joule earlier this year. It adds to the growing list of recent misfires the company has had in its efforts to diversify away from its core CPU business.

It’s hard to know whether to applaud Intel, for sensibly removing itself from a market it had made negligible impact in and was relatively small anyway, or to feel that Intel should have had a clearer strategy in the first place – and should never have wasted its time launching products it wasn’t committed to.

Intel has also announced that it has decided to kill its Curie module, which was intended for integration into the eventual Arduino designs. The Arduino dev kit had been aimed at developer and hobbyists looking to develop and test their own projects.  However, the $30 board never managed to move the focus of the maker community away from the popular Raspberry Pi.

Raspberry Pi’s success amongst the maker community is due to a combination of backwards compatibility, an open source platform and an active community to promote the ecosystem. This combination of factors has given customer confidence to invest their efforts developing their ideas and prototyping using the Raspberry Pi modules – knowing that they have a large ecosystem to draw parts and experience from, with backwards compatibility.

In contrast, Intel was not prepared to make its silicon open source, and developers seemed unconvinced they would see continued support for the Arduino and Curie – due to Intel’s habit of chopping and changing its product line.

Last month, Intel announced it was killing off the Edison, Galileo and Joule compute modules and boards. First unveiled at the 2014 CES show as a “PC on a card,” Edison’s aim was to put x86 chips into both the wearables and maker markets with kits and hobbyist boards (like the Arduino).

Galileo was a similarly pitched challenger to Raspberry Pi, in the low-cost microcomputer space for home-brew projects. Joule, meanwhile, had been unveiled as recently as last year, as a capable IoT platform for all manner of IoT devices. Intel is reportedly going through a reorganization and that these products fell under Intel’s New Technology Group, rather than its IoT wing.

Intel also recently axed its wearable division, having previously acquired wearables company Basis back in 2014. Intel had touted the wearables market as a key area in which it could expand its business. However, Intel recalled all of Basis Peak watches in 2015, after some customers complained about the wearables overheating and causing blisters. Intel then stopped supporting the watch, forever characterizing the purchase of the wearable maker as a misguided decision – far from an x86 showcase.

Other attempts at diversification included an infamous entrance into the mobile processing market ending in disaster, although it has now found itself providing LTE modems to Apple.

Intel has been notching up early wins recently with its machine-vision Movidius processor. Intel paid an undisclosed fee for Movidius in 2016 and has since been supporting the development of its low-power vision processor. The product is already being integrated in the drone market with DJI, but it is also targeting small devices such as phones, VR headsets and cameras – any IoT application that needs eyes for the physical world.

Continuing with the theme of Intel efforts in AI, the company is in the process of acquiring machine-vision specialist Mobileye for a reported $15.3bn. Mobileye is currently the number-one supplier of chips and software that power video-based image recognition in cars – a huge market for growth, and one where Intel has paid a huge premium to entre relatively securely. The IP portfolio could bring in patent license fees from autonomous driving for decades to come.

Intel has been under pressure in its core server market, from x86 rival AMD and ARM-based Qualcomm and Cavium systems. Intel has retained some huge customers in the likes of Microsoft’s Azure cloud platform – however, Microsoft has reported to be exploring a range of alternative options, for its server systems, likely causing some concern at Intel.

Microsoft is also planning its own internal ARM version of Windows erver. The Project Olympus’ Open Compute hardware is an open-source reference design that Microsoft is hoping will shake up the market – adding more reasons for anxiety at Intel that some of its core business no longer looking as certain as it once did.

A shift towards machine-learning and AI enabled applications has dented Intel’s growth curve expectation for its core business. Machine learning and AI based applications currently favor GPU based processing power, an area where the market leader is Nvidia. Instead of a rack of Intel’s Xeons CPUs, these systems might only require two or four CPUs, used to power a suite of GPUs housed in PCI cards and plugged straight into the motherboard. Such an approach would slash the number of Intel CPUs required for such applications.