Back in early 2012, when Intel was still playing a game of catch up in the mobile device market, the idea that the company will one day emerge as a legitimate provider of smartphone and tablet chips might have seemed a bit absurd. This year, the future prospects appear somewhat more optimistic: not only has the US-based chipmaker proven its resolve in adapting to the mobile industry, its efforts, to a certain extent, also appear to be paying off. Below, we take a brief look at what Intel has to be optimistic about, along with a few things that it should watch out for.
The good signs
For those who’d been keeping track of last month’s Mobile World Congress, a trend that is particularly worth noting is the increasing number of mobile devices that now carry the “Intel-inside” label. Intel had made sure to announce throughout the event a variety of notable processors, namely the “Clover Trail +” chip series (which include the Atom Z2580, Z2560, and Z2520 processors) and the 22nm quad-core “Bay Trail” SoCs that are scheduled to be released during the holiday quarters. Some of these chips can already be found in the new smartphones from ASUS, Acer, and Lenovo. Others, as suggested by John Morris of ZDNet, are expected to be featured in future Android and Windows 8-based tablets manufactured by OEMs like Compal, ECS, Pegatron, Quantam and Wistron.
Intel’s Atom Z2580, in a way, deserves a bit of an honorary mention here given the attention it has received from emerging smartphone makers. About a week ago, ZTE, the 4th largest mobile device company in the world and one of China’s most popular smartphone brands, announced it would be extending its strategic collaboration with Intel in order to create future flagship devices based on the Z2580 platform. Just yesterday, Intel’s high-end chip is also rumored to be featured in a mysterious handheld device from Indian smartphone maker Xolo, which advertised its new product as the “fastest smartphone ever.” With the growing attention that Intel is receiving in the smartphone and tablet industry, and with much of these attention coming from markets that are growing and thriving at a rapid pace, Intel is all but poised to gain the momentum that it should have had when it neglected to take hold of the mobile market several years ago.
As much as some of the abovementioned trends call for a celebration, a number of potential issues remain. In a few months, CEO Paul Otellini will be ready to step down from his post and appoint a new successor to assume the leadership role. Whether the next Intel CEO will continue the much needed mobile market push, and whether the company will be boggled down by a potential change in corporate culture remains to be seen. What’s also worthy of noting, at this point, is the company’s supposedly unresolved discussions with Apple regarding the manufacturing of its iPhone and iPad chips. Although recent rumors suggest Intel may have already reached an agreement with Cupertino, sources like CNET’s Brooke Crothers questioned the possibility based on the latter’s alleged favoring of the Taiwan-based Semiconductor manufacturer, TSMC. A lack of a major supply partnership with Apple will not necessarily be a detriment to Intel’s operations, but it will certainly postpone the company’s goal in becoming a major player in the mobile industry.
One other major factor that should not be dismissed, above all else, is future competition. NVIDIA, as we noted in an earlier article, is getting better at producing mobile chips, and is recently rumored to be looking for white-box manufacturers that will distribute its Tegra-powered devices. Like Intel, the company also happens to be a crucial client of various smartphone companies, among them ZTE.