Weekend reading: Is It Time To Take Intel-Based Smartphones Seriously?
Sunday, 16 May 2010 09:24
Written by Apocalypso
Intel has been trying to penetrate the market for mobile device application processors for the past decade with little success, but the last week the chip giant unveiled its newest Intel Atom processor-based platform, a chipset it needs to mount a serious push into the smartphone and tablet segments.
The success of Intel in the mobile device application processor market depends on its securing backing from the software industry and support from major mobile industry giants, such as Nokia and Orange, that are now taking Intel seriously. Intel was recently identified by Yves Maitre, group devices director at Orange, as one of six cash-rich North American technology giants (Apple, Google, Intel, Microsoft, Qualcomm and RIM) prepared to spend hundreds of millions of marketing dollars this year to carve out a stronger position in the burgeoning smartphone market.
The Atom has to offer sufficient to superior performance (including low power consumption (a traditional Intel weakness) as well as the ability to deliver impressive multimedia performance) in order to attract strong support within an ecosystem that is already grappling with substantial fragmentation in terms of operating systems and platforms. Intel's challenge is compounded by the fact that unlike the Atom nearly all the major suppliers of mobile handset chipsets are building processors based on core technology from ARM.
Another question is whether Intel can win enough backing from the all-important software industry. Although Intel says that its new platform supports Android, MeeGo and Moblin but these operating systems still account for a relatively small part of the smartphone market.
It is not clear to me whether Intel's Atom-based processors will have enough of a performance-edge to persuade enough of the mobile software ecosystem, already grappling with far too much fragmentation, to embrace another platform. Ironically, the application processor is one of the few aspects of handset technology where there is a degree of standardisation. Unlike Intel, nearly all the major suppliers of mobile handset chipsets build their processors using core technology from ARM.
Moreover, Qualcomm, ST-Ericsson and others either have, or are developing, 1GHz plus smartphone platforms capable of supporting impressive 3D graphics and HD video. Intel is also making a play for the high-end of the smartphone market at a time when sales of low-end smartphones are growing fastest and may attract the most attention from software developers.
Intel can probably count on Nokia and some of its long-standing partners in the PC industry, such as Acer and Dell, to use the new Atom platform to help them try and build a convincing rival to Apple's iPad. But sales of tablet computers are likely to simply cannibalise sales of netbooks, which use Intel's first generation Atom platform. If that is the case, Intel would really end up defending its existing territory, rather than making serious inroads into the core mobile device market.