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Anand Chandrasekher   (Source: Intel)

Intel, distantly behind ARM in the ultra-mobile space has had plenty of talk, but today appears no closer to gaining any ground in tablets or smart phones.  (Source: HotHardware)

No major smart phone has an Intel processor in it today. And only a handful of tablets carry last-generation power-hungry Atom CPUs (like the ExoPC and HP Slate). Best-selling models, like the iPad exclusively use ARM.  (Source: VILLA)
Senior vice president of Intel's ultra mobile unit company peaces out

A few more months have rolled by and Intel Corp. appears no closer to regaining any market share in the tablet and smartphone market.  Even as ARM CPU manufacturers like Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, NVIDIA, and Samsung sell millions of units, Intel has yet to ship a single modern smartphone CPU.

Now Intel has been dealt another setback in its mobile campaign.  Its senior vice president of mobility has quit, offering little explanation for his sudden departure.

I. Anand Chandrasekher -- One of Intel's Best and Brightest

Clearly Intel wanted desperately to begin to take advantage of the booming smartphone chip business.  That hope was evidenced by its decision to throw one of its brightest stars at the effort.

That star was Anand Chandraskher.  Mr. Chandrasekher had effectively given the world Wi-Fi, leading the team who first pushed the standard with Intel's Centrino wireless chipset.  Even at Intel, it's hard to find someone in the realm of mobility who had made a bigger difference than Mr. Chanrasekher.

Hopes were high that he'd be able to right the ship and steer Intel's struggling ultra mobile division to good fortunes.

II. Where's the Product?  The Curious Case of Intel's Ultra Mobile CPUs

Smartphones took off beginning in 2002 with the introduction of RIM's Blackberries.  And they gained an even higher profile with Apple's iPhone launch.  And today, Google's Android OS is the world's top smartphone OS selling tens of millions of units a quarter.

Tablets, are a more recent craze almost exclusively driven by Apple's iPad, which launched in early 2010.  Today Android tablets are slowly gaining a small market share as well.

There's one thing all of these devices have in common -- they don't use Intel processors.

That's a nightmarish situation for Intel, as the company has long maintained a nearly 90 percent market share in the desktop, laptop, and server space.

Despite having a mobile line of processors -- Atom -- Intel has struggled to shrink these processors' power requirements to levels competitive with ARM designs.  Vocally, however, it has remained confident.  Even at this year's Mobile World Conference 2011 (MWC 2011) in Barcelona, Spain Mr. Chandrasekher was bragging about Intel's upcoming mobile CPU offerings, Medfield (smartphones) and Moorestown (tablets), claiming they will beat ARM chips in both active power performance and processing power.

Along the way Mr. Chandrasekher and his colleagues have made many similarly boastful claims.  But for all the bravado, third parties have been unable to validate Intel's statements as the company's next-gen smartphone and tablet CPUs have essentially become vaporware.

While samples reportedly have finally shipped to hardware makers, there's much uncertainty about whether Intel Medfield-powered smartphones and Moorestown tablets will be able to meet ARM CPU designs' power and processing performance, much less beat it.

III. The Chief Quits

Amid this tense atmosphere for Intel, Mr. Chandrasekher appears to have tossed in the towel.  He announced his departure from the unit and the company with a brief email, writing, "I have done what I wanted at Intel and I felt it was time to explore other opportunities."

The announcement is a huge loss for Intel at a time when it is behind its competitors and has little room for error.

Moorestown, one of Intel's new tablet chips, has faced delays.  It has been shown off powering a number of demo platforms over the last year, but has yet to ship actual product.

States Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group, a chip consulting firm, in aCNET interview on Mr. Chandrasekher's departure, "Moorestown was a complete flop. Intel is still struggling to get traction in tablets and particularly smartphones. Atom [Silverthorne] is in a few tablets that run Windows, but Windows tablets are not very popular, except in a few vertical applications."

As for smartphones, Mr. Gwennap adds, "It remains to be seen whether Medfield (the next Atom for smartphones) will do any better, since Intel has not disclosed any details on that product yet. In addition to finding customers, the new [Ultra Mobility Group] management has a big task in figuring out how to integrate Atom with the ex-Infineon baseband products."

Other analysts were not much kinder.

Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw writes, "The industry has gone right past them. They're just another player [in the smartphone and tablet markets]. There's no first among equals.  Legacy (Windows) compatibility doesn't matter in the post-PC era. All the blockbuster products that Apple has had are post-PC. Therein lies the conundrum for Microsoft and Intel."

IV. Intel Looking for a Winner

Intel is desperate to gain some sort of traction amid these struggles.  

As Mr. Chandraskeher announced his departure, David Perlmutter, executive vice president and Intel Architecture Group (IAG) general manager tried to rally the troops, writing, "Intel remains committed to this business. We continue to make the investments needed to ensure that the best user experience on smartphones and handhelds runs on Intel architecture, and to ship a phone this year."

Intel installed dual vice-presidents Dave Whalen and Mike Bell to co-manage the ultra-mobility group.

The question remains whether they can pick up where Mr. Chandrasekher left off and bring next-gen Atom tablet and smartphone CPUs to market.

And the pressure on Intel's mobility team grows monthly.  With ARM's tremendous success in the ultra-mobile space it's looking to establish a beachhead in mobile (laptop) sales in the near future.  Microsoft has already announced it will support ARM CPUs with its next desktop/laptop version of Windows.  With a multitude of ARM chipmakers announcing powerful, highly-clocked, multi-core designs, Intel must realize that if it can't take the fight to ARM, ARM is about to take the fight to it.

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Not really sure why this is such a big deal...
By hans030390 on 3/22/2011 11:30:35 AM , Rating: 0
You don't really hear anything about ARM trying to get into the desktop CPU business, so I don't see why Intel is so worried about getting into the mobile CPU business. Desktops and laptops aren't going away anytime soon, so there will be demand for those types of CPUs for a while. Intel excels in that area, and they seem to be fine just with that business.

By the time (and if) desktops/laptops disappear and mobile-type chipsets are much more prevalent in all areas of computing, I think Intel will be able to have something available.

By Aloonatic on 3/22/2011 12:17:27 PM , Rating: 5
I think that Intel are worried about the way the consumer market is moving, rather than ARM specifically trying to get into the desktop market.

We've already seen a shift in computing within the home moving away from the PC in the home office/study, to the laptop. Then more affordable notebooks & netbooks came along, taking their piece of the pie too. Now we have tablets coming along to take money from peoples' wallets (and purses) as well.

I don't think that desktops and powerful, desktop replacing laptops are going away, per sa, but the share of the market that Intel can dominate with it's traditional processors is shrinking, while consumers move to lower power, portable computing, whether anyone here thinks that that makes sense or not.

Intel would be mad to not recognise this, and Atom kinda did a job for a fair while, buying Intel some time, but you (and Intel) have gotta ask yourself what sort of processors are going to be in the devices that people are walking out of the shops with in 5 years time. Will the majority be processors of the kind where Intel dominates now, or are they more likely to be the kind or processors where ARM are at? If Intel were to focus wholly on the high power, high performance desktop and laptop processor market where they dominate now, they may well find themselves as being more of a niche processor manufacturer as fewer and fewer homes demand that sort of processing power (thinking about it, how many home users really need i7 levels of performance?) and businesses realise that they don't need them either, for general office work, let alone the rapidly growing mobile device market.

By tamalero on 3/22/2011 2:49:28 PM , Rating: 2
I second this motion.
People are moving away from big bulky desktop counterparts and whants efficient mobile and easy to use devices that can be used almost anywhere.
Intel as minimum reach in this section and thus since its the fastest growing market (while normal computers are kinda stagnant) not surprised that intel gets the creeps.
Since its a market Intel also cannot control at their will with hidden dirty monopolistic tricks ala DELL & HP.

RE: Not really sure why this is such a big deal...
By mmp121 on 3/22/2011 12:27:23 PM , Rating: 2
Its the first serious attempt to use a mobile device in a laptop form factor. Same goes for all the tablets in the market. They are all ARM based. Tablets are where ATOM was supposed to end up. Intel needs to get its ducks in a row or the mobile / portable market will become mainstream, and they will be left with the niche server / and a shrinking desktop market.

By mmp121 on 3/22/2011 12:28:09 PM , Rating: 2
I was referring to the Motorola Atix in that comment, sorry.

By Ushio01 on 3/22/2011 3:57:02 PM , Rating: 3
Here's an example of why Intel is worried the Nokia N8 it can connect with wifi to the router and with bluetooth to a keyboard and mouse, hdmi to a 1080P monitor, 3.5mm TRS to speaker's, usb to an external harddrive and still plug into the mains with the Nokia propriety charger.

It completly replaces the physical tower of a desktop and then look at the SoC in the ipad2 and then realise that the Sony NGP due to be released later this year doubles that and with the internet how many consumers still buy boxed software that needs x86 cpu's.

"We shipped it on Saturday. Then on Sunday, we rested." -- Steve Jobs on the iPad launch

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