SAN FRANCISCO-Intel’s partnership with Google around optimizing the Android operating system for its Atom platform could be a boon for the chip maker’s ambitions in the booming smartphone space.
Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini announced the partnership Sept. 13 at the Intel Developer Forum here, being joined on stage by Andy Rubin, senior vice president of mobile for Google. The two talked in broad strokes about what the partnership will mean, and showed off a prototype smartphone running the Android “Honeycomb” OS and powered by Intel’s “Medfield” Atom platform.
Both executives spoke about how the alliance will enable the two companies to extend the reach of their respective technologies.
The announcement comes as Intel gets ready to introduce in the first half of 2012 the first smartphones running on its processors, a move that will put it in direct competition with ARM Holdings, whose low-power mobile chip designs dominate the burgeoning smartphone and tablet markets. It also comes as executives with longtime Intel partner Microsoft-at the software maker’s BUILD show in Los Angeles-tout Windows-based phones and tablets running on ARM chips. However, Microsoft did demonstrate a Windows 8 tablet powered by an Intel chip.
The mobile computing space is expected to grow rapidly over the next few years, with market research firm Gartner predicting that tablet sales will grow from almost 70 million this year to 294 million in 2015, and In-Stat forecasting 850 million smartphone sales in 2015. While Intel and Microsoft find themselves on the outside looking in right now, executives with both companies expect that to change starting next year. But it also could mean some splintering in the tight relationship between the two vendors.
Greg Richardson, an analyst with Technology Business Research, said the Google deal is an important move for Intel. In the mobile world, partnerships are important given the emphasis end users put on the ecosystem surrounding the device, rather than simply the device itself, Richardson said in an interview with eWEEK at the show here.
“Until now, we’ve seen Intel going it alone,” he said, noting Intel executive statements about continuing development of the MeeGo mobile OS despite partner Nokia backing out earlier this year in favor of Windows.
With Google, Intel now has a partner whose operating system is in a wide range of mobile devices from multiple vendors, from HTC and Samsung to LG Electronics and Sony. In addition, Google is expanding its reach in the market with its $12.5 billion bid to buy device maker Motorola Mobility. The deal could benefit Intel in that it will enable Google to build its own smartphones.
Intel’s Atom platform is aimed squarely at the mobile space, offering significantly better energy efficiency and battery life than other Intel processing platforms.
Intel Focuses Smartphone Efforts on Android
Neither Otellini nor Rubin gave out much in the way of details regarding the partnership. However, during a question-and-answer session with analysts and journalists after his keynote, Otellini said Intel will focus its first smartphone efforts on Android, and that there will be “multiple manufacturers worldwide” making the Intel-based phones.
“The first phones … will be all Android-based; hence the importance of the Google partnership,” he said.
Otellini also dismissed any concern about Windows 8, Microsoft’s upcoming operating system that will be optimized for mobile devices and run on not only Intel but also chips designed by ARM and manufactured by the likes of Qualcomm, Nvidia and Texas Instruments. He was asked about the Microsoft’s demonstration of the ARM-based Windows devices at the BUILD conference and his concern about it not only strengthening ARM’s hold on the mobile computing space, but also helping ARM officials in their ambitions to move into the PC market.
Otellini said he is confident in the Intel technology, and that a key differentiator is its ability to support legacy workloads.
“The value of legacy … is pretty substantial, and I don’t think end users will walk away from that. I like our chances.”
He said that despite the head start ARM has in smartphones, the market is still very fluid.
“The smartphone business is not established in terms of the ultimate shakeout of who is going to win and who is going to lose,” Otellini said, noting the strong showing Android now has in the space despite Apple’s strong start with the iPhone.
He also said MeeGo is still “alive and well,” particularly in embedded solutions for such areas as the automotive industry. However, he acknowledged that Nokia’s decision earlier this year to ditch MeeGo in favor of Windows set the development of the open-source OS back months. However, Intel is still working with OEMs to bring MeeGo onto tablets and smartphones.
“Obviously, when Nokia chose [to leave the partnership], our major partner disappeared, so we’re looking for other partners,” Otellini said.
Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoint Technologies Associates, doesn’t hold out a lot of hope for MeeGo’s future.
“MeeGo is quietly slipping into the background,” Kay said in an email to eWEEK.