Intel aims to disrupt the smartphone market

Intel has used consumer gadget show CES as a platform to declare its arrival to the smartphone market, announcing a multi-year deal with handset maker Motorola Mobility and unveiling a Lenovo handset based on its new Atom processor platform. However, disrupting the current state of the market could prove to be a struggle for the firm, suggests one analyst.

The chipset manufacturer revealed that it has entered into an agreement with Motorola Mobility, which is the subject of a proposed takeover by Google. The two firms will work together on a range of smartphones and tablets over the coming years, and will begin shipping an Android smartphone based on the Atom chipset later this year.

Intel has been relatively anonymous in the smartphone market of late. Although it made strides in the early to mid-2000s, with its chipsets being used in various PDA devices and internet-enabled devices that predate the advent of the iPhone and the Android platform, today’s smartphones predominantly run on chipsets designed by Cambridge-based ARM. Intel recently admitted that its smartphone business accounted for less than one per cent of its revenue, however, according to the firm’s president and CEO Paul Otellini, the firm’s agreement with Motorola Mobility will put the company back on the map in the smartphone space.

“Our long-term relationship with Motorola Mobility will help accelerate Intel architecture into new mobile market segments,” he said. “We expect the combination of our companies to break new ground and bring the very best of computing capabilities to smartphones and tablets, which in turn will help to create powerful new experiences that connect and enrich people’s lives wherever they may be.”

However, Nick Dillon, analyst at Ovum, is sceptical about what impact Intel can really have in the smartphone market, given where the firm currently is with its market share and the reliance that the industry has come to have on ARM-based chipsets.

“Intel has come from a very different direction from ARM. ARM came to market with efficient low-power chips and scaled the processing power up, whereas Intel is coming from the PC end – with high power chips that are much more power-hungry – and with the Atom chip, Intel is trying to push it down to that low-power category, and low power consumption is a critical element in smartphones,” he said.

He added that the processing power advantage that Intel might have had given its PC roots has also largely been eroded by strides that ARM-based chips have made over the years.

“1.5GHz dual-core processors are already the norm, and quad core chips for smartphones are around the corner anyway, so any processing power advantage that Intel could have brought to the table has largely been removed already.”

“And then there’s the fact that Android handsets have been optimised around ARM-based chipsets, not only on a platform level, but also with apps. Power hungry apps have native code elements built in and are optimised for ARM chipsets, so they will have to be recoded to make the most of Intel. There’s quite a few challenges ahead of the company, even with the new deal that it has signed with Motorola.”

Intel also used CES to showcase a new Android smartphone, the Lenovo K800, based on the Atom chipset, which will be available in China in the second quarter and will run on China Unicom’s 21Mbs network. The handset uses the Z2460 Atom processor, support for HSPA+ with the Intel XMM 6260 Platform, and the Lenovo LeOS user interface for a localised experience in China.


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