With its new Atom processor platform, launched last week at CES, Intel Corp. is aiming directly at the rapidly growing market for low-end smartphones in developing countries.
Targeting the low end of anything seems a decidedly un-Intel thing to do. But Intel has been trying to expand its minimal presence in the smartphone world for several years. Gotta start somewhere.
"By targeting the low end, Intel can attempt to address the market with the greatest opportunity for growth in the smartphone business during the next few years," said Francis Sideco, senior principal analyst for wireless communications at IHS iSuppli, in a report circulated Wednesday (Jan. 16). "With Intel now holding a negligible share of the global smartphone applications processor market, the company appears to be taking the steps it needs to in order to have a chance at expanding its presence in this segment."
Mike Bell, vice president and general manager of Intel's Mobile and Communications Group, shows off a smartphone reference design at a media event prior to the opening of CES. The reference design, based on Intel's new Atom platform, is aimed at emerging markets.
According to IHS (El Segundo, Calif.), the new Atom platform, formerly codenamed Lexington, has an opportunity to tap into a major trend. In developing nations, where there is often a scarcity of wireline phone infrastructure, consumers are hungry for low-cost smartphones that offer high performance and a full feature set.
In most of the world, a smartphone remains a relatively pricey item. Even so, total smartphone shipments in 2012 probably ended up at somewhere between 600 million and 700 million units. When you consider the number of people living in developing nations that could benefit greatly from a low end smartphone with a pretty robust feature set, it's pretty clear that the volumes involved could get pretty enormous pretty quickly if the right price point is hit.
According to IHS, shipments of low-end smartphones—the fastest growing segment of the smartphone market—doubled between 2012 and 2016. The firm expects low-end smartphone shipments to rise to 559 million by 2016, up from just 206 million in 2012.
Intel can't even compete at the Cortex A15 level, and they want to compete at the Cortex A7 level? Even if it's possible to do it, do they really want to sell $5 chips?
And that's Intel's biggest problem in the mobile market, especially at the low-end:
Perhaps a low end cell phone strategy is an admission that existing software ecologies (iOS, Android) are too much to compete with. Like how the Windows ecology stymied any different PC processors - 68000, Alpha and ARM.
Interesting. I really don't see the low end cell phone market growing significantly... Unless low end of tomorrow is high end of today...
On another subject, the skin shaded microphone in the picture above looks like a huge mole....
Intel's culture of over-designing might be hard to change,however i can see they're getting on the path on being lean. i agree with your take on the instruction sets, but that's just what their architecture based on and ARM architectures are designed on RISC which is historically meant for low power. i would be interested on how ARM is playing in the server market on being more high-performance. it's Jack vs the big giant.
Intel is in third place, but are they poised to take advantage of the market growth and will they grow share? Qualcomm has a big lead. Will they continue to dominate the market? Arm is a big advantage and I don't see Intel moving to it.
Intel should reduce the amount of instructions that an Atom processor supports w.r.t x86 ISA. Otherwise the core will have issues like :-
1. Bigger area for implementation
2. More power consumption (means more/better battery tech)
3. More core / processor(or SOC) on chip will have the above 1 & 2 issues in a much bigger scale
4. Cost will always be higher because of 1 & 2 points
5. Going to leading edge process will reduce issues of points 1, 2 & 3, but how to take care of point 4 !
So, Intel should support the required subset of x86 ISA very much like what ARM, Qualcomm and others have.
But having said that, many x86 (PC) software will not run by default which is Intel's biggest selling point in the name of Atom processor which ARM processor clearly lags.
Striking a balance for Atom between x86 ISA & x86 code base for mobile is Intel's greatest challenge.
With Atom, the question used to be whether it was low power enough. Assuming the answer is now yes, then for success at the low end of the smartphone market, one would expect the next question to be whether it is lower cost or no costlier than an ARM-based apps processor.
If so, that would also be decidedly un-Intel.