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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