Intel doesn't think that the home phone is dead--despite some pretty compelling evidence that more and more people are using cellphones as their main telecommunications systems. And it wants to combine a home phone with another idea that hasn't quite caught on yet--the home media hub.
What Intel is effectively trying to do is drive its tiny Atom processor into more devices. The company's vision of the future home phone is as a larger, more capable smartphone. To that end it's put together a reference design that has Atom Z5xx processors at the core, paired with an Intel controller hub, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, card-readers, USB ports, camera, 1GB of memory and 8GB of compact flash as long-term storage.
And it's all designed to fit in box that is 5.4 x 9.6 inches across--with a display. Technically it will have VOIP software as well as traditional landline phone capabilities, and be able to surf the web, play games and perform other typical net-book applications on its specialized Linux Moblin operating system.
The inclusion of HDMI-out is a bit of a puzzler. Maybe Intel thinks the device will also be able to act as a proper media hub? That solution might work in a kitchen entertainment-unit setting, but it's hard to imagine answering a phone call on the same device that's running your main TV.
Since its a reference design, it's far from being a real product, so don't expect to be able to pick one up soon. Although if a manufacturer does get interested, the hardware is already in place, so a design-to-product timescale could be pretty short.
But what I'd love to see Intel pushing, instead of this multi-purpose, but strangely purposeless stand-alone device, is one that makes much more use of distributed wireless infrastructure. We don't particularly want a stand-alone mini-PC that runs both media and telephone services--it's a curiously dated idea. And existing desktops, netbooks and smartphones do most of that stuff already. Intel should be pushing the new "home smartphone" as part of a bigger eco-system, perhaps combined with media-serving plug computers and tiny embedded Atom-powered systems elsewhere in the house: That would be a far more flexible system, likely to meet the needs of our near-future homes much more successfully.