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.