Intel Counting on Tablets/Phones for Mobile; Is It Mutual?

Intel (s intc) Chief Executive Paul Otellini realizes the company is late to the mobile party, and is counting on the hot tablet and smartphone segments to help it catch up to the competition, he said at a  conference in San Francisco this week. Those two mobile segments are dominated by competing hardware, so it’s not clear how successful Intel will be in breaking the established foothold enjoyed by companies such as ARM (s armh) and Texas Instruments (s txn).

There will be 35 tablets with Intel inside early next year, according to Otellini, produced by major players such as Dell (s dell), Lenovo, Asus and Toshiba. The tablets will ship with either Windows (s msft), Intel’s own Meego or Android (s goog). Intel seems to be covering all platforms with its strategy, but it’s not clear what it brings to the table for tablet makers. Windows is an obvious platform for Intel hardware, but simply cannot compete with OSes designed for touch tablets from the ground up. Meego may be a better choice, but is new and unproven in the tablet arena. Android is already making waves in the tablet space with the Samsung Galaxy Tab, but Intel processors don’t meet the low power requirements needed for them as do ARM-based solutions already being used. It is not obvious what advantage an Intel solution brings to the tablet world, especially with dual-core ARM chips announced this week.

Intel is still planning to break into the smartphone segment, Otellini reiterated at the conference, with handsets bearing company chipsets appearing in the last half of 2011. They will be based on Intel’s smartphone chipset codenamed Medfield, which is a power-efficient form of the Atom processor used in netbooks. Competing processors used in smartphones — ARM and TI’s OMAP primarily — are already in virtually every smartphone on the market, and another year will only see them get further entrenched. Intel is falling further behind with each passing month, and by the time Medfield hits consumer devices, the competition will have evolved even further.

While it makes sense for Intel to concentrate on the hottest mobile segments, the company’s plan does not clearly outline what advantages tablet and smartphone makers get with Intel chipsets. It doesn’t help Intel that both of these segments are evolving at a rapid pace, and the longer development cycle the company normally employs is now a liability.

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