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