Intel today admitted it has changed its design processes since "Viiv", its attempt to standardize home theatre PCs, flopped so spectacularly.
In a presentation to journalists today in San Francisco, the Australian-born anthropologist and Director of Intel Labs, Genevieve Bell, said the company had flipped its design process from discovering technologies and then finding uses for them to discovering problems faced by users and matching technologies to fix them.
"For example, to change Intel's contribution to television, we needed to go from Viiv to something more successful," she said.
(Intel appears to have given up entirely on its rights to the Viiv name -- it is now being used by an American healthcare company dedicated to treating HIV patients.)
Bell said that as a company born from engineering, one of the biggest challenges was to think of -- and describe -- products as something other than a list of specifications.
She also said, when introducing an engineering director to speak, that it was an interesting culture change within the company for engineers to be reporting to an anthropologist -- someone who studies people.
"We needed to go from turning televisions into PCs, or connecting PCs to the television. We actually needed to think about what people love about their current TVs."
"The first time your television asked you to reinstall a driver or told you it needed to defrag itself before you watched your shows, or your TV screen went blue and said 'physical memory dump commencing, OK?' is when you say 'no, not ok!"
"So we set out to find out what is so compelling about TV that people watch 20% more of it than they did 10 years ago."
"People love TV because it's not complicated; it's one button to stories they care about; it doesn’t require passwords or connecting to things that are terribly complicated."
"That research unlocked such a rich trove of data, it inspired us and our engineering colleagues for nearly three years."
The question of why people love things is it gets us away from the question: how do we turn everything into a PC?"
Some of the discoveries that Intel made along the way as it studied how families interact with the TV is that there's always a power-struggle over who gets the remote control, and there's often a turf-war over who gets to plug their gadget into the limited number of powerpoints in the best locations in the home.
Following the speech, Intel opened its Intel Labs technology demonstrations, showing a TV interface that adapted in its style according to who was using the TV at the time (young girl, father, mother, etc.)
More news on the technology demonstrations themselves to follow.
Dan Warne is attending Intel Developer Forum as a guest of Intel.