The post linked from the article is a super thorough teardown/analysis and makes the design look more impressive than I thought. This is like a mini-ITX box--the reviewer stuffs a mini RTX 2060 in there and shows the machine drawing 311W power at peak--but small even for that class (5 L). Mesh sides + lots of fans help cooling, but in the stress tests it still seems to struggle w/all that heat. Guess you could compare it to the "trashcan" Mac Pro too, but more upgradeable (takes a standard 8" GPU etc.).
The "compute element" idea could mainly be about Intel selling OEMs most of a NUC so they can give it their own look and marketing for different audiences. If so, good on Intel for realizing that marketing to everyone requires more than "the skull on the lid is optional."
I wonder if something in between this and the old high-end NUC design could have had a niche? A more-open, at-least-optionally-vertical design like this, but the old NUCs' high-TDP CPU and mobile-class dGPU (doesn't have to be glued to the CPU!) and instead of a 500W PSU taking space + giving off more heat inside the case, stick with 200ish watts from an external brick.
The higher-TDP CPU and dGPU would separate it from the tiny NUCs, open/vertical layout would make it lower-footprint and easier to cool than the old "performance" NUC, and lower-power components could make it smaller and cheaper than this new NUC. I guess the issue is maybe not that many users want an in-between machine like the old NUC (and it wasn't just a problem with its formfactor), whereas we already know there's a market for desktop boxes with desktop GPUs.