Intel and Google will work together to optimize new generations of Android for the chipmaker's low-power Atom processors. The move means Intel will take a step in a different direction from Microsoft and its mobile platforms, and Google will help Intel establish more of a presence in the mobile space dominated by ARM processors.
At the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco on Tuesday, Intel CEO Paul Otellini showed a Android smartphone using his company's Medfield chip, which is based on Atom. The 32-nanometer Medfield is the company's flagship processor for smartphones, and succeeds the 45-nanometer Moorestown processor, which was Atom-based but had size and power issues.
Intel/Android Smartphones Next Year
The giant Intel is expected to reduce its mobile processor line to 22-nanometer within the next year, which would result in a smaller size and, most likely, a lower power need.
Intel has dominated the market for desktop and laptop PCs, and its integration with Windows was so powerful that the combination was dubbed Wintel. But the dominant processors for smartphones and tablets are those based on designs from the U.K.-based ARM Holdings. ARM chips are used in smartphones and tablets from Apple, Samsung, HTC and Research In Motion.
Intel and Google said that they expect Intel-based, Android smartphones to appear by the middle of next year. The arrangement with Google gives the chipmaker an endorsement that its new chips will be competitive in the challenging mobile environment.
Otellini told news media that the smartphone business "is not established" in terms of permanently dominant players, and he noted as evidence the speed with which Android has risen to become the leading mobile operating system.
'Will Anyone Care?'
Microsoft's coming Windows 8 operating system, unveiled to developers earlier this week, will have a version that runs on ARM processors. In fact, although Microsoft has been insisting that Windows 8 will be one operating system running on many platforms, there will be a branch just for ARM. The company said that Windows 8 on PCs will run all Windows 7 apps, but Windows 8 on ARM tablets may not be able to do so. Metro apps, designed specifically for Windows 8, will run on all Windows 8 machines.
Michael Gartenberg, research director at the Gartner Group, said the announced arrangement between Google and Intel makes sense for both companies, but the key question is "will anyone care?" He said Intel "has a lot to prove about whether it can make a mobile processor" that OEMs will want.
Avi Greengart, research director for consumer devices at Current Analysis, said the announcement showed "really, truly, nothing new." Intel has, in the past, worked to some degree with other operating systems, while Microsoft has worked with other hardware makers, Greengart said.
One question is whether this new alliance with Google means that Intel's own Meego mobile operating system, developed with Nokia, is now history. Greengart said it is "still around, but Intel is positioning it more for embedded applications." When Nokia committed its product line to Windows' Phone 7, he said, that "kind of killed any momentum."