Once upon a time, Intel wanted to establish itself as the go-to chipmaker for wearables. What’s more, the company bought the pioneering fitness band company Basis — its first consumer-facing business in a very long time. Now comes word that Intel has finally and officially killed its wearables business.
In truth, it was a long time coming. Intel rarely talks about internal machinations (including this one), but we heard every so often about a new reorganization that would cut X number of people or that would move the New Devices Group further and further down the org chart. Intel’s Curie and Edison dev platforms, popular at Maker Faires, were hard to find at retail and never seemed to gain the popularity commensurate with their profile. We’re not aware of any commercial products that were prototyped on either platform.
A joint venture with Google to build a reference platform for Android Wear watches lasted about a year. Fossil was a major client — until Fossil suddenly went with a different platform. The Google deal was never actually announced, and never actually killed. But it was here, and then it was gone. As far as we can tell, Qualcomm’s got all that business now.
Basis was a disaster of its own. A well-regarded early entrant in the fitness band market, Intel bought it for something like $100 million. Shortly thereafter, its executives complained privately that they were sucked into endless corporate meetings instead of building products. (Not uncommon, of course, in startups bought by big companies.) But then Basis’s batteries started overheating as they approached their end of life; rather than fixing them, Intel bought them all back for God only know how much money and killed the product entirely.
Intel sponsored a wearables bootcamp competition on basic cable that dozens of people watched. More money gone.
What survives is Intel’s augmented reality business. AR is a big and coming thing, of course, and Intel does have a toehold in that market with Recon, a wearable display business that Intel bought a couple of years ago. Recon makes a display insert that Oakley uses for a big-ticket ski goggle and Recon itself makes a bicycling visor, although we haven’t seen any updates for it in quite some time.
Agility is important and a good thing for a technology company, maybe especially for a company the size of Intel. And AR will probably be a good market for it. But wow — that was a hell of a lot of money Intel spent over the last four years on wearables. The question is: was the problem Intel and its approach, or was it something fundamental about the wearables business?