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How Intel will embrace the 'delightful chaos' of Internet of Things

Intel's chief financial officer, Stacy Smith, visits CNET to talk about how his company plans to power tomorrow's devices.

When it comes to everyone's favorite new buzzy tech phrase, "Internet of Things," Intel Chief Financial Officer Stacy Smith has a refreshingly candid answer on how big the chipmaker's efforts in the area could become: "No idea."

He's referring to Curie, a chip that Intel introduced in January that crams a processor, sensors and radio into a space the size of a button. The chip serves as the company's newest stake in the ground in the Internet of Things, a concept that many everyday items -- a coffee maker, washing machine or jacket -- can be connected to the Web and talk with each other, potentially providing users with more information and control.

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Curie represents what is possible for computing in the future, with chips that small being used to power wearable devices and all sort of other objects, Smith said in a visit to CNET's New York office Wednesday. For Intel, which dominates the business of supplying chips to personal computers, the company is eager to search for the next big market to return it to the days of heady growth. But despite all the hype around wearables and IoT, the story of this nascent market is yet unwritten.

"What we see in that segment of the market, the Internet of Things, there's lots of innovation going on," Smith said. "If anybody tells you they know who's going to be the winner three years from now, they're making it up, because nobody knows.

"We want to be there early with great technology," he continued, "and then let this delightful chaos play out and see what evolves from there."

Intel -- the world's biggest chipmaker -- is looking to stretch its legs beyond the PC. The company wants to power devices ranging from data servers to personal computers to smartphones. Part of this strategy stems from the need to survive -- the PC just isn't as strong as it used to be -- and part comes from a desire to be the go-to chips firm for whatever electronics are being created.

"Today you just have this explosion of devices," Smith said. "What Intel is really well positioned to do is to be the company that provides the technology that's inside all those devices."

Intel's effort to diversify has brought it plenty of success, with its Internet of Things business growing significantly last year, posting more than $2 billion in revenue. But, there's one big exception: its mobile business lost the company $4.2 billion at the same time.

"We lose a lot of money there, so we want to improve that," Smith said, noting that Intel projects it will cut mobile losses by $800 million this year.

Asked if the recent stumbles of mobile competitor Qualcomm could help Intel snag more business, Smith said his company plans to focus instead on bringing forth the best technology.

"That's how we want to win in the marketplace," he said.

After its main PC business rebounded last year following two years of declines, Smith said Intel expects that segment to be generally flat this year. But, he said, customers are coming back thanks to many new innovations.

"We're seeing a reinvention of the personal computer," he said. "You now have devices that have all-day battery life, there are convertibles, detachables, touch screens. So we're creating these very cool, sleek devices that people want. We're seeing at least that market stabilizing with all that innovation going into it."