Intel Smartphones Are Finally Here – Sort Of

When it comes to mobile phone/tablet technology, Intel certainly isn’t a name that comes to mind. Despite their major lagging behind the pack, Intel has always aspired to develop x86 processors that work in a variety of different situations from high-end servers, supercomputers, thin-and-light laptops, netbooks, tablets, and recently they’ve even set their sights on mobile phones.

It’s been a long time coming, but the first smartphone featuring an Intel processor has finally arrived – well sort of. Medfield is debuting in a Lenovo-branded phone that is being release in the first half of this year for the Chinese market. So, no global Intel phones for now.

Of course Motorola Mobility has signed a partnership to develop both phones and tablets that use Intel technology. These won’t start showing up until the second half of 2012, though.
Straight from Intel CEO, Otellini: We’ve only just begun to apply our technology to smartphones. We’ve built an incredible platform for our partners to innovate on.

While Intel is clearly the master of the PC market, followed distantly by AMD, this just isn’t the same turf. I understand Intel wanting to expand its reach outside of its traditional sector, but I’m still not sure what kind of chance they really have against ARM.

The Lenovo phone certainly is a starting point, but it will only be available in China, so this is kind of an empty victory.

I do know that Windows 8 is going to be a major part of a processor war that is yet to come. While Intel is pushing towards the mobile market, Qualcomm (and to a lesser extent, Nvidia) has its sights set on expansion into Intel turf with possible Windows ARM laptops in the near future.

Of course, keep in mind that at least for now Intel is actually working with Google’s Android phones. This also leaves me curious. I won’t pretend to know what is going on with the optimization process, but I do know that Ainol’s Novo 7 runs a MIPS processor and does have many app compatibility issues.

Will this be the same case with Intel’s x86 with Android apps? I don’t know, but if it does have compatibility issues at all, even if minor, Qualcomm and Nvidia will use these problems to create negative attention that will make it even more difficult for Intel to break into the mobile sector.

While I completely understand the need to move into the mobile market, I don’t think Intel should put all its expansion-goal ‘eggs’ in one basket. So where else could they move that would give them an edge? What about convincing either Sony or Microsoft to go “Intel” with their next game system. Microsoft’s Xbox started as a Intel endeavor, but due to the limited stability of the Pentium-based chip at the time, Microsoft decided to shift to PowerPC in its next system.

So, why would a console maker consider Intel again? If they really have optimized x86 for mobility, that means it won’t run as hot (something that PowerPC has problems with), and it will likely still be faster than an ARM solution would be. Additionally, I would bet that if they think Medfield is good enough (stability wise) for smartphones, it would provide a much more stable experience than Microsoft’s original Xbox did.

My point in all this is that there are many places for Intel to go that need more power than ARM provides. Are phones one of these markets? I’m not yet decided. I do believe that Intel can create a strong niche in the smartphone sector, but I highly doubt it can really provide any real damage to ARM makers stake in the market.

The same could be reversed, if ARM gets involved in desktop/laptops it will only be a niche and nothing more.

What do you think about Intel getting involved in the phone market after all this time? Do they have a chance? Additionally, do you think that game consoles would be a good place for Intel to attempt to expand? Share your thoughts below.

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