At the core of every smartphone, phablet, tablet, computer, or piece of electronic equipment is a processor. Processors aren’t as simple as a single chip anymore. The processor inside mobile devices today is what’s called a “System on a chip”, or SoC for short. This SoC includes a lot of “processors”. Some handle video, some handle traditional “CPU” tasks. Others take care of your cellular, WiFi, and Bluetooth radios. Still more process audio, and others monitor and handle the vast array of sensors that are tucked away snugly inside modern phones and tablets.
Each SoC has its advantages and disadvantages when compared to those made by others. Some handle battery life better, while others provide better performance (“speed”). Some work better with a specific carrier’s cellular network. Some cost more than others.
The players in the SoC battle aren’t that numerous, but one company in particular seems to be missing from the game: Intel.
Intel was founded on July 18, 1968, is headquartered in Santa Clara, California, and is the world’s largest semiconductor chip manufacturer (based on revenue). They invented the x86 series of microprocessors that are used in personal computers today. Outside of “traditional” computers — desktops, laptops, and servers — Intel doesn’t seem to have much of a presence. They’re everywhere, however. Intel chips (and those based on Intel technologies) can be found in all sorts of electronics. But one place they don’t seem to have much of a foothold is in smartphones and tablets.
Where are all the phones?
Intel has proven they can make chips fast and affordable, but when it comes to mobile solutions, Intel seems to have a hard time getting it right. In retrospect, Intel’s Atom line — the one they targeted for mobile applications — hasn’t had much success, at least not in smartphones. Part of the is because of the why Intel’s chips are built: they’re not ARM-based. To combat this, Intel had to work closely with Google to get a version of Android built and produced that would run on Intel hardware. This version of Android was identical to every other version of Android — on the surface. Underneath there were significant changes to make the OS work with Intel’s processors. All this took time, which delayed Intel’s entry into the mobile marketplace. During this time, other chip makers sprinted ahead. Sure, Intel didn’t sit idly by, they kept pushing forward, just not as quickly as they could have.
That brings us to today.
Back in September we heard about the Motorola RAZR i, an Intel-based smartphone. Quite a while after that we were told that the the Lava XOLO was the “fastest smartphone ever”, and it was powered by an Intel chip. ZTE just announced an Intel-powered phone. Lenovo announced an Intel-based phone — but it’s only available in China.
Notice a trend? Other than the Motorola partnership, it would seem that product offerings from the other OEMs are fairly small when compared to the “big players” in the industry. That is until you factor in the rumors that Apple may use an Intel chip in their upcoming products. For now at least, those are still rumors.
What are your thoughts?
Are contracts in place with other OEMs that keep them from seriously considering Intel, or are Intel chips really that poor a choice for use in today’s smartphones and tablets? Perhaps Intel is just using smaller OEMs to prove their SoCs are ready for prime-time without taking a substantial risk if they’re not.
Do you have a theory why Intel chips haven’t taken off in the mobile space? We’d love to hear them! Let us know in the comments.