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Intel is planning a dual prong strategy for smartphone dominance

Intel Corp.'s (INTCnew CEO, Brian Krzanich, may have his roots in the company's manufacturing development, but his focus today lies like a laser beam upon the mobile sector.  After watching his company fail to scoop up a piece of the exploding mobile market (tablets and smartphones), he is determined that the next generation of Atom chips will be game changers.

I. Smartphone and Tablet is Now Top Priority at Intel

Atom, Intel's mobile chip family, is slotted to get its sixth major release -- the 22 nm, quad-core tablet-geared Atoms (core: Silvermont; SoC: ValleyView; chipset: Bay Trail) -- later this year for tablets, with a smartphone-aimed variant coming in the early winter 2014 months.

Mr. Krzanich, in an interview with Reuters, says that for the first time mobile chips are as high a priority to Intel as central processing units (CPUs) for traditional personal computers (PCs).  He states, "We see that Atom is now at the same importance [as PC chips], it's launching on the same leading edge technology, sometimes even coming before Core [Intel's line of PC chips].  We are in the process of looking at all of our roadmaps and evaluating the timing of some of those products. It's fair to say there are things we would like to accelerate."

Brian Krzanich, Intel CEO [Image Source: AP]
Intel reportedly has struggled a bit with die shrinks to smaller nodes, although it still enjoys a healthy lead over rivals.  Originally it had planned to release 22 nm smartphone chips in 2013, but those plans appear to have been pushed back at lest two quarters.  Likewise, the release of Broadwell, the world's first 14-nanometer PC CPU has reportedly been shifted from 2014 to 2015.

II. Wearables and Smart TVs Also Targeted

The CEO also reveals himself to be an early adopter of Google Inc.'s (GOOGGlass Explorer, wearable computer.  Intel is also eyeing the "smartwatch" trend -- which is off to an early start with the release of Sony Corp.'s (TYO:6758SmartWatch 2.  With GoogleApple, Inc. (AAPL), Samsung Electronics Comp., Ltd. (KSC:005930), and others reportedly viewing wearable form-factors, such as glasses and "smartwatches" as the next big thing, he reveals that he has ambitions to put Intel CPUs inside.  In other words, this time around he's determined not to miss the next big market trend.

"Smart" watches, such as the Sony SmartWatch 2 are expected to be one of the next big things.
He comments, "I think you'll start to see [wearable] stuff with our silicon toward the end of the year and the beginning of next year. We're trying to get our silicon into some of them, create some ourselves, understand the usage and create an ecosystem."

Another emerging market that Intel is eager to participate in is the smart TV market.  Much like the tablet, analysts believe that past efforts by Google, Apple, and others have fallen short of what this market segment could promise.  They envision a booming future market.  Intel has played an active role in this segment -- many of the first Google TV products carried Atom CPUs.

Intel is currently working on both smart TV hardware and user interfaces, though its efforts remain far from a polished product.  Mr. Krzanich believes much of the challenge ahead lies in wooing content providers.  He explains, "We believe we have a great user interface and the compression-decompression technology is fantastic.  But in the end, if we want to provide that service it comes down to content. We are not big content players."

"We're being cautious. We're experts in silicon, we're experts in mobility, in driving Moore's law.  But we are not experts in the content industry and we're being careful," he repeats.

III. Intel Goes ARM ... Sort of

Perhaps most intriguingly, Mr. Kraznich confirmed in the interview what could be a second major front in Intel's efforts to conquer mobile -- acting as a contract fab partner for a larger rival chipmaker who used ARM Holdings Plc's (LON:ARM) alternative architecture.

Mr. Krzanich states, "If there was a great customer that we had a great relationship with laptops and other mobile devices, and they said look, we'd really love you to build our ARM-based product, we'd consider it. It depends on how strategic they are."

Perhaps hinting at whom he might be talking about, he reveals that this month he's using a Samsung Galaxy IV smartphone.  (He changes phones and laptops once a month to avoid favoritism and to keep up with form factor trends.)

A deal with Samsung would be interesting, given that Samsung already has its own major fab business, which is among the most advanced among ARM chipmakers.  Samsung and Intel enjoy a growing relationship that started on the PC front, and since expanded when Samsung gave Atom a place in one of its latest flagship tablets.  Samsung is currently the world's largest phonemaker, and the world's second largest tablet seller (behind only Apple).

Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 10.1 carries an Intel Atom SoC, in some versions

Other potential ARM chipmaking partners include NVIDIA Corp. (NVDA) -- who makes the Tegra mobile SoC -- and Qualcomm, Inc. (QCOM) -- who produces the Snapdragon SoC.

Yet another possibility would be a relationship between Intel and Apple on the ARM front.  Apple is reportedly insistent on sticking with ARM-style chips, which it co-designs, in its tablets and smartphones.  However, The Wall Street Journal and other sources have reported in recent months that Apple -- a top buyer of Intel's PC CPUs -- may be interested in a lucrative deal with Intel to make the world's most advanced ARM chips from a process perspective.  Such a deal could help Apple's ARM processors stand out from those found in a sea of Android competitors, who are currently outselling its products 4-to-1.

Intel clean room employees
Intel is rumored to be in talks to make chips for Apple devices.
[Image Source: Press Photographers Assoc. of Ireland]
But whether its Apple, Samsung, or somebody else, Intel is playing its cards relatively close to its vest.  Thus at this point the only thing that's sure is that it is open to a potentially lucrative and game-changing tie-up with a top ARM chipmaker -- whoever that might be.

Source: Reuters

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Intel should just...
By retrospooty on 7/1/2013 12:15:42 PM , Rating: 2
Use some of the massive cash they have and buy an ARM chip maker outright and make ARM chips. Has they done that we could be using 22nm ARM right now.

RE: Intel should just...
By Wiggy Mcshades on 7/1/2013 12:55:25 PM , Rating: 2
Intel had their own line of arm cpu's called xscale, they sold the division to marvell in 2006. They wouldn't need to buy a company to make arm chips. They would just need to buy a license and possibly hire some new engineers.

RE: Intel should just...
By retrospooty on 7/1/2013 12:59:31 PM , Rating: 2
I know, I remember. They were at the time the best thing going. StrongArm I think was the marketing name for the product line.

They could license like anyone, good point. Or they could just buy out competitors. They have the cash.

RE: Intel should just...
By ilt24 on 7/1/2013 1:26:28 PM , Rating: 3
StrongARM is what DEC called it's line of ARM processors which they originally created for the Newton, but found some success in windows based PDA’s. Intel acquired DEC’s ARM line in the late 90’s and a few years later renamed it to xScale.

Intel only sold its application processor products to Marvell, they kept some network and media processors which they continued to sells for a number of years. A few years back they acquired Infineon’s wireless division which uses ARM cores and made Intel one of ARM’s larger licensees.

RE: Intel should just...
By retrospooty on 7/1/2013 2:01:17 PM , Rating: 2
"StrongARM is what DEC called it's line of ARM processors which they originally created for the Newton, but found some success in windows based PDA’s. Intel acquired DEC’s ARM line in the late 90’s and a few years later renamed it to xScale."

Awesome. I didnt know it originally came from DEC. I remember the DEC alpha back it its day it was pretty damn good too. Another of HP's stupid moves. When they bought Compaq (Compaq bought DEC) they killed it.

RE: Intel should just...
By ilt24 on 7/1/2013 2:37:09 PM , Rating: 2
The reason I knew that was I used for work for DEC. I can remember attending a meeting back in the mid 90's were they announced we were making a new low power chip for a next generation Apple Newton. The first Newton with the StrongARM chip came out in 1997, Jobs came back to Apple in 1998 and killed the Newton.

As far as HP letting Alpha die, it was Compaq that made the decision before HP bought them.

RE: Intel should just...
By jemix on 7/1/2013 10:38:39 PM , Rating: 2
I too used to work for DEC back then. I remember things a little differently. I remember that DEC sold off a few businesses/divisions to various companies. Around the same time, Intel 'stole' Alpha technology and DEC sued Intel. Since DEC (Bob Palmer, DEC's CEO) was in the selling mood, he settled with Intel and sold DEC's division - 'Digital Semiconductor' for a little less than $1 billion. Included in the sale was Alpha in StrongARM technology. I wasn't too happy with Palmer. DEC could have remained a great company.

RE: Intel should just...
By fteoath64 on 7/2/2013 9:40:26 AM , Rating: 2
Actually, HP killed off Alpha finally as it had HP 3000 which later collaborated with Intel for the Itanium chip based on HP and Intel's EPIC technology. At the time HP also bought Tandem with their Himalaya technology (real cool duplicated everything nobody ever done). But hey, HP was big enough to do what ever it wants including trying to kill itself!. Not succeeding and still struggling.

RE: Intel should just...
By ilt24 on 7/2/2013 10:50:28 AM , Rating: 2
While it was killed off while HP was in charge, the decision to move from Alpha to Itanium was made by Compaq...although I guess it could have been a prerequisite of HP buying Compaq.

RE: Intel should just...
By ilt24 on 7/2/2013 10:42:43 AM , Rating: 2
Yes, DEC sued Intel and then a year later as a settled, with Intel buying the DEC semi plant in Massachusetts. Intel also got all the semiconductor products DEC made other than Alpha, which included StrongARM as well as a bunch of Network and PCI bridge products. I think the price was $600M. Many at the time thought the reason Palmer made the deal was because Compaq who not long after bought DEC, didn’t want a Semiconductor plant. Compaq kept Alpha and had Intel continue making them chips for a few years, then Compaq moved Alpha manufacturing to IBM.

RE: Intel should just...
By Adonlude on 7/2/2013 12:48:32 PM , Rating: 2
My father reported directly to Bob Noyce and Gordon Moore. That is all.

RE: Intel should just...
By RU482 on 7/2/2013 5:28:31 PM , Rating: 2
whoa! cool if true

Pipe Dream
By Ammohunt on 7/1/2013 1:55:21 PM , Rating: 2
I still this Atom < ARM in many ways and that uptake of Atom would be tough row to hoe. You potentially would have to port all the current android apps in the store. As hard as windows phone(which i feel is a superior OS compared with Android) is struggling to make gains in the app market i can see the desire by devs to port apps from Arm to x86 practically non-existent.

RE: Pipe Dream
By ilt24 on 7/1/2013 2:12:01 PM , Rating: 2
I don't think you have to port much as most apps on Google Play run via emulation on an Atom based Phone/Tablet. "Most" as of last year was 95%, not sure what the percentage is now.

RE: Pipe Dream
By StevoLincolnite on 7/1/2013 7:48:16 PM , Rating: 2
They use Binary Translation, most of the ARM based programs will run on Intels x86.

RE: Pipe Dream
By Flunk on 7/1/2013 8:44:30 PM , Rating: 2
The vast majority of apps are written in Java and don't require any changes to run on Atom processors. It's only apps with native code that need translation/recompilation which are a small percentage of Android apps, mostly games.

RE: Pipe Dream
By zinc0099 on 7/1/2013 2:56:40 PM , Rating: 2
Not really. Most andriod apps run with the SDK inside a Java Virtual Machine (Dalvik). It does not care what is under the hood unless it is going at a specific hardware set like a tegra GPU.

RE: Pipe Dream
By Ammohunt on 7/1/2013 3:39:26 PM , Rating: 2
Wasn't sure if Android apps ran in a JVM but that will certainly make it easier. Still like upgrading to Windows 8 there is no compelling reason to migrate to Atom.

I say Nvidia then Apple
By unimatrix725 on 7/1/2013 12:28:17 PM , Rating: 2
Nvidia and Intel played nice onnce upon a time. Then sh+t got nasty over chipsets. I can see a huge benefit to Nvidia as Global Foundries frequently has issues keeping up., especially at 32nm or lower. Nvidia already said it would license its GPU IP, the latest and that would benefit Intel too. Lets not forget Nvidias ambitious planz with Tegra too. Apple is already in bed with Intel anx iz dying to give Samsung the finger.

RE: I say Nvidia then Apple
By retrospooty on 7/1/2013 12:52:19 PM , Rating: 2
Nvidia would be a great target for Intel to buy if you ask me... Imagine a Tegra 4 on 22nm . It would seriously kick ass. That and with Intel's expertise, they would probably have a better time of it with less delays.

Then Intel could have both ARM and x86, whichever takes off benefits them.

RE: I say Nvidia then Apple
By InsGadget on 7/1/2013 10:22:24 PM , Rating: 3
You just described AMD's worse nightmare.

RE: I say Nvidia then Apple
By lagomorpha on 7/2/2013 8:11:21 AM , Rating: 2
I'd rather imagine a 14nm Broadwell with a Maxwell iGPU and eDRAM. But it isn't going to happen, Intel is too infatuated with its internal GPU team.

RE: I say Nvidia then Apple
By tat tvam asi on 7/1/2013 2:49:54 PM , Rating: 2
Try helping MIPS/Imagination.. that will eat into ARM's market and unsettle this entrenched competitor.

By Hector2 on 7/1/2013 3:27:47 PM , Rating: 2
Krzanich wasn't hinting about fab'ing Samsung's ARM. He was hinting about being open to fab'ing Apple's ARM. Samsung fabs their own ARM, while Apple doesn't have a fab.

The next question would be --- 22nm or 14nm ? Would Intel be willing to fab 14nm ARM, or only 22nm ARM ? They would prefer to keep ARM no better than 22nm as they move their own smartphone Atom chips to 14nm. That would give them an advantage of better performance and power

By mi1400 on 7/2/13, Rating: 0
By fteoath64 on 7/3/2013 3:06:11 AM , Rating: 2
"If there was a great customer that we had a great relationship with laptops and other mobile devices, and they said look, we'd really love you to build our ARM-based product, we'd consider it."

I strongly think he is talking about Apple!. The previous CEO wants nothing to do with Arm and demonstrated it by having repeatedly developing Atom to displace it. Now that the team learned that Atom can maybe equal Arm at best, it would be a different story for this CEO.

Imagine what Intel could do by taking Arm 2 generations ahead of what it is now ?!. They would cream all Arm suppliers but still, there is the gpu technology that Intel still do not have. Hard licensing these from Nvidia is not a bad thing and would be good for the market. Congratulate the gpu team in Intel then disband them. Job well done boys and you have demonstrated the limits of that design. That's it. We need to move on. Nvidia can carry them in gpu for the next 5 to 10 years as that is badly needed by Intel to concentrate on cpu core from a different perspective as they do now. I would love to see the day when a 16 core looking (from OS) x86 chip is actually a 128core Arm machine on hardware barely pulling 10 watts.
We will then see a Macbook where iOS is embedded into OSX and when asleep iOS is actually pulling all notifications and small jobs, then quiting and handing over to OSX upon wake up. You can also runs both together asymmetrically.

"This week I got an iPhone. This weekend I got four chargers so I can keep it charged everywhere I go and a land line so I can actually make phone calls." -- Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

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