The Compute Continuum in Action: South Africa

At Intel, we’re in the business of expanding what we call the “Compute Continuum” – which is to say, we are constantly looking for ways to make connected devices work better, and work better together. Understanding how people are currently using connected devices is one of our first steps in building products that will drive new and better experiences with the myriad devices we depend on every day. Last month, Alex Zafiroglu reported from the UK, sharing some of what she’s seeing in how people are watching television while using other devices. Here’s Tawny Schlieski to share what she learned about another key device in the compute continuum while at the year’s biggest sporting event. We know that sports and their surrounding media drive new experiences and technological innovations (including FIFA’s production of 25 World Cup matches in 3D), and that sport drives technology adoption and purchases. And we know that the overwhelming majority of sports is delivered to fans via technology – TV, computer, radio, phone . . So what were fans doing with their own technology while at the World Cup?

I recently returned from South Africa, and the 2010 Fifa World Cup. We were there to study hardcore football fans (that’s soccer fans to us Americans) and their use of technology. The spectacle was everything you would expect and more. The technology, in a word, failed. For 10 days, we saw football fans with frail internet connections and the ability to send text-only Facebook updates. Consistently we observed from device to device and technology to technology, the rules of connectivity and interaction were always changing. Do you want to send a text message? Not on an iPhone. Do you want to connect to the Internet? Not on a Blackberry. Just want to make a simple phone call? Not if you want to hear both sides of the conversation.

So fans just gave up, right? With all these problems they just put away their phones, and held their stories for when they got home. Not on your life!

The Compute Continuum is just Intel-speak for what Football Fans do every day. If it was ever in doubt, the World Cup in South Africa confirmed that fans will do whatever it takes to get what they want. They’ll borrow their friends phones and computers. They’ll post text updates if text is all they have. They’ll spend their evenings trying to decipher “help” instructions for menus that don’t exist on their phones. They’ll complain (oh will they complain!), they’ll argue that a company like Intel should focus less on the compute continuum of the future, and more on the basic connectivity of now. In fact, I can’t say it any better than our Scottish Fan, talking about attending his first ever live World Cup match:

There were goals, and penalties, and last gasp saving tackles and skill and controversy and vuvuzelas and everything you need for a truly awesome experience. It was the highlight of my footballing fan career. Unfortunately, while the football was awesome, the technology was not. In fact, had technology been playing, it would have been substituted before half time.

When we walked in through the entrance into the stadium, you could see the stadium open up. The lights, the pitch, the gaping coliseum dedicated to football, wrapping around and curling over the pitch. It was more than picture perfect. I got my phone out because I just had to take a picture and send it to my brother and my mates. It was the ultimate opportunity to rub salt into what were already painful wounds for them. My chance to show them that while they were watching at home, or in the dank, smoky, grey pub they were in, I was there, in the flesh, experiencing it first-hand. Photo taken, message written, send failure. Try again. Send failure. Send text message trying to describe said picture. Not quite the same impact.


The next morning at breakfast Phil was telling me all about the really cool things that technology will do in the future. I got really excited. Apparently in the future, I’ll be able to go to the stadium, take a picture with my camera and send that picture to my phone using infra-red technology. I’ll be able to take a picture in high definition which will show the stadium in brilliant, silicone enhanced crystal clear definition. I’ll be able to see the sweat pores on the faces of the footballers and the seams on the ball. I’ll be able to capture the moment of impact between the ball and the boot and the movement of the boots laces as the ball is curled on a gravitation defying trajectory into the back of the net. And then, in the future, having captured that moment, and having seen it with my own eyes, and transferred it to my phone using infra-red sorcery, then and only then, will I get the send failure message. Great! In the future, I’ll be frustrated in high definition.

And what did our hardcore Scottish friend take away from all the pain and frustration of working through broken technology? He took away glee, because despite all the effort his technology demanded, he was still in South Africa, in person to watch the Dutch victory over Cameroon. And even though he couldn’t send pictures of the pitch, he still did get his message out so that his friends knew he was there.

For the fans, being at the 2010 World Cup over-shadowed everything. They, more than any customer you can think of, will willingly take on the most frustrating, finicky, technologies, learn the rules, and make their way through the maze of exceptions, because they NEED the connectivity. Their position as world class fans depends on it! When Intel delivers for a fan, they aren’t just delivering to one person; they are delivering to a whole community. So, trust me, we better get our game on!


1 thought on “The Compute Continuum in Action: South Africa

  1. Dr. Bell,
    I recently read your bio on an aol website while surfing the web. I just wanted to let you know how inspiring your story is. As a recent graduate in anthropology, I know how “useless” the degree can seem to some people. It is a field that can be so vast and yet so limiting at the same time. Anyway, thank you for sharing your story! It inspires me to keep my head up and think of creative ways to search for jobs with my degree.

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