SAN FRANCISCO--Intel Corp. may have missed the smartphone boat the first time around, but the chip maker is determined not to let the opportunity set sail without it again, making its first big moves in ultra-mobility at last week’s CES 2012.
Showing off a reference design smartphone and announcing partnerships with both Motorola Mobility Inc. and Lenovo Ltd, Intel is determined to make its mark on mobile this coming year, starting with the Chinese market and then expanding out.
Spearheading Intel’s efforts in the space is Mike Bell, a former Palm executive who also spent time at Apple working on the first iteration of the iPhone. Bell’s official title is vice president and GM of Ultra Mobility, a role formed after the previous head of Intel’s Ultra Mobility segment, Anand Chandrasekher left the firm last year.
Bell hopes to succeed where Chandrasekher failed by honing Intel’s efforts with a singular focus on Google’s Android operating system, a strategy he believes will catapult the chipmaker forward and even provide it with an edge on its previously untouchable competition – the ARM ecosystem.
Choosing Android as Intel’s platform of choice for smartphones was a decision made owing to the sheer number of people in the ecosystem working on Android enablement, said Bell, noting that he believed Intel had the hardware to make Android “really shine.”
Bell acknowledged that in the past Intel had focused on making chips more geared towards speed than power efficiency, but said this had been a choice rather than anything more fundamental.
Medfield, he said, would change all that, with the 32-nm SoC making huge strides in power efficiency, with Bell claiming it was as power efficient as any of its competition.
“We have chips that are just as power efficient as everyone else. At the same time, they’re faster,” he said adding that from a performance standpoint, Intel was really pushing the envelope.
“On standby time we’re well within shouting distance of best in class, on some of the web benchmarks we smoke the competition, in some cases we’re two, three, four times faster on some benchmarks. There’s some we don’t do as well on but honestly, with a Medfield based phone in your hand, the user experience is phenomenal. There’s no downside, there’s only upside,” he said.
In order to succeed in smartphones this time around, Intel has seemingly gone all out in its effort to throw significant weight behind Android as a platform. Back in September the firm announced it had officially partnered with Google to create a highly optimized port of Android to its x86 chips, and Bell said Intel had also let loose its group of software engineers on the Android ecosystem to help developers make their apps run more seamlessly on Intel’s platform.
“We’ve found people whose apps work fine, but in our testing we’ve found ways to make them faster or better, so we’re helping to raise all the boats in the Android ecosystem by enabling those people to have a better product,” he said.
Bell went on to note that Intel would be shipping out technology that would even allow applications developed for other hardware run on Intel’s x86 platform without modification.
“The user shouldn’t have to care what the app was written for. For the most part, it will just run,” he said, demoing a non-optimized, but smooth running version of Angry Birds to prove his point.
The reference design phone reminds me of the way Intel releases motherboards for their desktop processors. Could this be the start of the PCification of the smartphone? May we be able to one day swap cases, boards, displays (betteries) with the same ease we do now with the PC.
He said angry birds was an ARM native application. ARMulators have been around for a while for x86, I wonder how they're doing the ARM simulation. The best silicon process, dragged down by a legacy x86 design, dragged further by emulating the competition, and yet it's still competitive. Remarkable, but there's got to a be a simpler way.
The main reason people need real computers these days is for media and information creation. It's been said many times in the past and the recent improvements in smart phones and tablets have not changed anything. Have you tried rendering video, modifying a weekend's worth of pics or even doing a term paper on a tablet? It doesn't make sense. We all enjoy our smartphones and are amazed how much they do. But the gap in capability and practicality is still enormous.
I'm not so sure this is a fight that Intel can afford to step away from.
Much as I would enjoy ARM using the same sort of FUD Intel used to market the 386 against the 68K. "Will you risk not using the industry standard".
Superphones and Tablets are eating PC sales. My niece does all her Facebook on her iPhone, she doesn't have a PC. Superphone + Internet TV, why have a PC?
Most ARMs are going into featurephones, the Cortex-A7 is fine for that and operates at 10% of the power of this new Atom. So ARM's core business is safe. I can't see the upcoming 'tock' of architectural redesign of Atom dropping power by more than half.
Intel's still enjoying good profits, I suspect that's at the expense of AMD. They haven't landed a blow on ARM yet.
I think the ultimate shortcoming that Intel in their ARM war is that their whole business is tuned to high margin chips. Will they be able to change gears and tackle the low-margin business effectively?
Intel also is one chipmaker. ARM, on the other hand, is a whole ecosystem of hundreds of different parts from scores of different manufacturers with different capabilities.
ARM's single core chip (stripped down to achieve power numbers) is going up against ARM parts which are going the other way - multi-core chips with DSP and SIMD processing on-chip.
Sure Intel have deep pockets and some clever people on board, but they have a lot of challenges if they want to play this game.
I predict that Intel will do what they've always done with their non-core business (8051, i960, ...) - do something interesting for a bit and then just walk away leaving their customers high and dry.
The problem with that recommendation is that sooner or later the CPU business itself will shrink to mostly mobile CPUs, as they get enough performance to run major apps. ie. Mobile CPU will disrupt the entire CPU business. So Intel is forced to play now.