Now that Google's Android OS will support the Atom platform, Intel has a strong partner as it moves to compete with ARM for smartphones and tablets.
Intel continues to be the world's largest processor vendor, owning almost 80 percent of the market and recording five consecutive quarters of record revenue, even as the world's economies continue to struggle.
However, much of Intel's revenue comes from processors used in traditional PCs, a market that is seeing sluggish sales and is rapidly commoditizing. Company executives covet a space in which the chip maker has little presence: the booming mobile computing business.
The rapidly expanding smartphone and tablet markets are dominated by chips designed by ARM Holdings and made by the likes of Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments. Despite Intel's efforts to muscle its way in-with its low-power Atom platform, for example, and its work developing the open-source MeeGo mobile operating system-the vendor hasn't gotten much traction.
That has done little to blunt Intel's ambitions, and, at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) that ran Sept. 13-16 in San Francisco, the industry got a good look at how the chip maker plans to push its way in. Most significant was a new alliance with Google, which pledged to optimize future versions of its popular Android operating system for Intel's Atom platform.
At the same time, Intel executives began to provide greater details about their ultrabook initiative. It's designed to fuel mobile PC sales and stave off a nascent challenge by ARM and its partners as they strive to move into the low-power PC segment.
The Google partnership could be a particular boon for Intel and its mobile efforts The move will give Intel a powerful partner that is seeing Android embraced by a wide range of vendors, from HTC to Samsung to LG Electronics. Such a partner will be crucial to Intel as it goes forward, according to Greg Richardson, an analyst with Technology Business Research. In the mobile world, partnerships are important, given the emphasis users put on the ecosystem around a device. "Until now, we've seen Intel going it alone," he said.
Speaking at IDF, Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini noted the significance of the Google alliance, saying it will help expand the reach of the Intel architecture. Neither he nor Andy Rubin, the senior vice president of mobile for Google who joined Otellini on stage, gave many details about the partnership. But Otellini did say he expects "multiple manufacturers worldwide" to come out with Intel-powered smartphones next year.
"The first [Intel] phones ... will be all Android-based; hence the importance of the Google partnership," he said.