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Intel's Project Athena aims to improve mobile PC standards

Intel's multi-year plan to improve PCs focuses first on improving battery life and connectivity capabilities. But analysts warn that Intel could fall into the over promise and under deliver trap.

Intel's Project Athena program is aimed at improving the overall mobile computing experience by updating PC standards. Analysts and industry experts agree that doing so is important, but expressed concern whether Intel can deliver on its promise.

"This is a standard setter in a lot of ways," said Bob O'Donnell, founder and chief analyst at Technalysis research. "Some of what's in Project Athena some vendors are already doing, but it's good to get best practices more widely established. Intel just needs to be careful it doesn't over promise and under deliver."

Intel unveiled Project Athena at the beginning of the year. In May, the semiconductor chip vendor provided more details at the computing conference Computex 2019. The Project Athena program is a push for better capabilities for mobile PCs and two-in-one devices, including better battery life, faster responsiveness, better connectivity, faster charging and more secure log-in. The initiative is a multi-year program that Intel hopes will chart the course for the PC industry to improve PC innovation.

"My interpretation of Project Athena is that Intel wants to bring the reliability and connectivity of the desktop environments to thinner mobile devices," said Andrew Hewitt, analyst at Forrester. "But the things they're adding around performance and responsiveness, battery life and connectivity are the baselines."

A screenshot released by Intel outlines the goals of Phase 1 of Project Athena
In Phase 1 of Project Athena, Intel wants to improve common problems associated with mobile PCs, including improving battery life and connectivity.

Still, battery life is a pain point for users and improving those everyday concerns can go a long way, according to Holger Mueller, analyst at Constellation Research Inc. This is especially the case the more PCs rely on solid-state drives (SSD), which provide PCs memory and storage in place of a hard disk.

"Battery life is a huge challenge for all mobile devices," Mueller said. "For PCs, the convenience of SSD has made PCs even more power hungry, and the industry is struggling to bring out a laptop that supports a full eight-to-ten hour workday on a single charge."

When Intel unveiled Project Athena, it indicated that these baseline improvements are part of Phase 1 of an ongoing initiative to improve mobile devices. Intel hasn't indicated what will be featured in upcoming phases, but analysts believe better integration between devices and stronger computing power on mobile PCs could be the next frontier.

I think the next step is easing a lot of the friction that people have when accessing different devices.
Andrew HewittAnalyst, Forrester

"I think the next step is easing a lot of the friction that people have when accessing different devices," Hewitt said. "Beyond that, the broader implication of [Project Athena] could be having more computing power and allow the mobile worker to do certain things they couldn't do before."

Some of those things, Hewitt continued, include conducting image recognition functionality using low bandwidth or analyzing large data sets using low connectivity -- things that are difficult to do with modern PCs.

"Larger, AI-powered operations are the moonshot needed to enable those use cases that require a lot of processing power," Hewitt said.

Achieving that "moonshot" may still be a ways away, but improving even baseline needs for the end user is promising, according to O'Donnell.

"What Intel is doing is taking all the best technology, packaging it together and marketing it as being 'Project Athena ready' or however they end up branding it," O'Donnell said. "It's a more standardized way of doing it and a way to make sure all experiences are improving."

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