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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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How is losing a manager a tragedy?
By name99 on 3/22/2011 1:58:11 PM , Rating: 5
How exactly is this guy "one of Intel's best and brightest" or "a wireless guru"?
I did a quick web search of him and, as far as I can tell, he's been a manager all his life. If there's a single product he ever actually DESIGNED or even worked on in an engineering capacity, the web has not heard of it.

Looks to me like what we have here is a manager who was a "genius" for as long as he was in the right place at the right time, then when life became tough, it turns out that there never was much genius there. In other words the standard US valorization of management as the people that make things happen, screw the engineers.

Look, you, I and everyone else in the world know why Atom is a sad POS that cannot function in the market that it is supposed to be targeting --- the phone and tablet market. The problem is a MANAGEMENT decision, to retain every idiotic design feature of the x86 platform that was ever thought of, even though this would have been the perfect place to ditch every such feature that made no sense.
And it's not like this is unique in Intel history. Remember that previous great triumph of marketing ideas over engineering common sense, the Pentium 4? Guess who was in charge of that effort.

As far as I can tell, Intel is losing someone who has made a number of bad calls (probably because he has limited technical expertise) and his replacement may well do a whole lot better; though it's a tough problem, given how much time Intel has pissed away on Atom. Maybe they simply have to accept another two years of being on the outside while they design a new mobile chip, this time one that is actually designed for the FUTURE not the past. (Hint, it has ONE mode, ONE, not x86 and 286 and SMM and the rest of that crap; and that one mode is x86-64, with NO x87 and NO MMX; heck no segments. Include a lightweight version of AVX that maybe does two ops per cycle rather than eight --- but which has the capacity to grow with time.)

RE: How is losing a manager a tragedy?
By bah12 on 3/22/2011 5:21:58 PM , Rating: 3
I agree very sensationalistic of the author. Especially this part.
The announcement is a huge loss for Intel at a time when it is behind its competitors and has little room for error.
No it isn't! It is, after all, his damn division that is failing to perform. Where is Mick's GM execs heads need to roll attitude, huh? What GM execs don't perform and they need to get the boot, but this guy is somehow special because he has successfully ran his division into obscurity.
That star was Anand Chandraskher. Mr. Chandrasekher had effectively given the world Wi-Fi,

And what is with the BS that Centtrino ushered in wifi? LOL wifi was widely used in laptops long before the first centrino design. Now centrino did bring good emprovements with regards to power, but I distinctly remember an Anandtech article discounting the glory of Intel's centrino marketing related to wifi, since it was already wide spread in laptops at the time, and was not the holy grail that Intel's PR was selling. Better yes, but revolutionary hardly, and wifi was well on it's way with or without centrino.

RE: How is losing a manager a tragedy?
By dsumanik on 3/23/2011 9:06:54 AM , Rating: 2
Actually centrino was just a marketing ploy from what i order to get a centrino sticker on your laptop you had to have a genuine intel processor, chipset, and wifi card

it was the combination of the three which earned a laptop the genuine centrino moniker

By bah12 on 3/23/2011 10:24:36 AM , Rating: 2
Correct which is why this paragraph is absurd. Sorry I should have quoted the whole line. Centrino had a wifi aspec to it, but first pushed the wifi standard? That is just BS. Obviously the guy was admired by Mick, and has been a friend to AT, but lets call a spade a spade. His division is crap and is greatest accomplishment was a marketing ploy (aka Centrino).

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.

"What would I do? I'd shut it down and give the money back to the shareholders." -- Michael Dell, after being asked what to do with Apple Computer in 1997

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