Intel Making Smartphone Headway



A 10-second Google search on “Intel AND smartphone” reveals endless pundit comments on how Intel hasn’t been winning enough in the low-power, smartphone and tablet markets. Business publications wax endlessly on the need for Intel’s new CEO Brian Krzanich to make major changes in company strategy, direction and executive management in order to decisively win in the portable market. Indications are that Krzanich is shaking things up, and pronto.

But until recently, I’ve counted only six or so public wins for Intel devices in the tablet and smartphone market (all based upon the Atom Medfield SoC with Saltwell ISA I wrote about at IDF 2012). Not nearly enough for the company to remain the market leader while capitalizing on its world-leading, tri-gate 3D fab technology.

Fortunately, things are starting to change. In June, Samsung announced that the Galaxy Tab 3 10.1-inch SKU would be powered by Intel’s Z2560 “Clover Trail+” Atom SoC running at 1.2GHz. It complements other Galaxy Tab 3 offerings with competing processors. The 7-inch SKU uses a dual-core Marvell chip running Android 4.1, while the 8-inch SKU uses Samsung’s own Exynos dual-core Cortex-A9 ARM chip running Android 4.2. The Atom Z2560 also runs Android 4.2 on the 10.1-incher. Too bad Intel couldn’t have won all three sockets, especially since Intel’s previous lack of LTE cellular support has been solved by the company’s new XMM 7160 4G LTE chip, and supplemented by new GPS/GNSS silicon and IP from Intel’s ST-Ericsson navigation chip acquisition.

As Intel steps up its game, the competition is not sitting still. ARM licensees have begun shipping big.LITTLE SoCs, and the company has announced new graphics, DSP and mid-range cores. But it’s looking like Intel will finally have competitive silicon to challenge ARM-based SoCs in the market that really matters: mobile, portable and handheld. 22nm Atom offerings are getting power-competitive, and the game will change to an overall system integration and software efficiency exercise.

Intel has been emphasizing a holistic, all-system view of power and performance. Their work with Microsoft has wrung out inefficiencies in Windows and capitalizes on microarchitecture advantages in desktop Ivy Bridge and Haswell CPUs. Security is becoming important in all markets, and Intel is already there with built-in hardware, firmware and software (through McAfee and Wind River) advantages. So too has the company radically improved graphics performance in Haswell and Clover Trail+ Atom SoCs…maybe not to the level of AMD’s APUs, but absolutely competitive with most ARM-based competitors.

And finally, Intel has hedged its bets in Android and HTML5. They are on record as writing more Android code (for and with Google) than any other company, and they’ve migrated past MeeGo failures to the might-be-successful HTML5-based Tizen OS which Samsung is using in select handsets.

As I’ve said many times, Intel may be slow to get it…but it’s never good to bet against them in the long run. We’ll have to see how this plays out. (See the full article on my blog All Things Embedded at http://eecatalog.com/caciufo/.)


ciufo_chris Chris A. Ciufo is editor-in-chief for embedded content at Extension Media, which includes the EECatalog print and digital publications and website, Embedded Intel® Solutions, and other related blogs and embedded channels. He has 29 years of embedded technology experience, and has degrees in electrical engineering, and in materials science, emphasizing solid state physics. He can be reached at cciufo@extensionmedia.com.

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