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.