Apple soars as Intel bores: The post-PC world in stark contrast

Nothing illustrates the shift in power from Intel/Microsoft to Apple like the contrast between the iPhone 5 launch and Intel's Developer Forum

San Francisco's Moscone West conference hall and the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts are just a block apart. But the psychic distance between the two is much, much greater as Intel hosts its annual Intel Developer Forum (IDF) at Moscone West and Apple (finally) launched the much-rumored iPhone 5 at Yerba Buena this week.

I've never been one to predict doom for either of the companies whose close alliance used to be called Wintel (Microsoft and Intel, that is) -- I'm not about to start -- but the curious lack of energy at IDF compared to the huge sense of excitement down the street at Apple's event is more than symbolic.

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Oddly, Intel CEO Paul Otellini is not out front at IDF, "the first time in my memory that IDF hasn't been keynoted by an Intel CEO or COO," says Nathan Brookwood, an analyst at Insight64, who has attended as many IDFs as anyone I know. "The contrast between the energy emanating from Yerba Buena Center and the situation here at Moscone West is stark. It's clear where the industry's attention is focused," he says.

No kidding. As always, Intel has several new technological advances to tout, some pretty interesting. But unless you're kind of a chip head or a designer of PCs, you probably haven't given much thought to "Haswell," the code name for a new generation of Intel's Core CPU line. And outside of the trade press, there have been few, if any, rumors about what the future according to Intel will look like. (You can see Intel's "Haswell" demonstration on YouTube.)

The world according to Otellini
Contrast that muted interest for "Haswell" to the months and months of rumors about the iPhone 5 and the iPad Mini. Indeed, the rumor cyclone surrounding those products was so strong that it actually reduced sales of the existing iPhone as customers held off on purchases in anticipation. And Microsoft's decision to build the Surface tablet by itself, instead of following its usual practice of letting the PC makers manufacture significant products, is emblematic of the fear, doubt, and confusion taking hold in the PC ecosystem.

I don't know if one should read too much into Otellini's absence from the big stage, but something he said during a recent interview was astonishingly out of sync with the tech world of 2012. Here's the exchange between Otellini and a reporter from our sister publication PC World:

PC World: "How do you react when people say we're in a post-PC era? Can desktops and notebooks survive in a smartphone and tablet world?"

Otellini: "I don't think there is a tablet- or phone-centric world. My view is we live in a personal computing-centric world."

Excuse me? It's one thing to say that laptops, desktops, and Windows will be around for some time -- they will. But to pretend the world still revolves around that decades-old model smacks of sticking one's head in the sand.

At least Intel's CTO seems more aware of reality: Justin Rattner told our sister publication Computerworld that the PC industry needs to step up with new technology to reignite passion for the PC, if it wants the industry to continue. Rattner cited touch capabilities -- ironically, what perhaps most distinguished the iPhone and iPad from PCs -- as a technology the PC industry could use to regain momentum, such as with Windows 8.

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