Android phones featuring Intel (NSDQ: INTC) chips should be available in the first half of 2012, Intel executives said on Tuesday at its annual developer conference in San Francisco.
While Microsoft (NSDQ: MSFT) showed off Windows running on ARM-based systems, Intel and Google (NSDQ: GOOG) on Tuesday launched a development partnership to get the Android mobile operating system to run on Intel’s lower-powered Atom chips.
The move is the latest effort by Intel to get into the booming smartphone market, where processors based on the ARM architecture devised by the Cambridge-based company of the same name dominate.
Google and Intel say they will work together to optimise future versions of Google’s Android mobile software for Intel’s Atom processors, hoping to speed the development and time-to-market of future Intel-powered smartphones.
The move could jump-start Intel’s efforts to expand into the market for mobile phones and touchscreen tablet devices at a time when sales of PCs are slowing in mature markets such as North America and Europe.
Intel is allying itself with one of the biggest players in the mobile industry. Android dominates the smartphone market, with around 40% of worldwide sales, well ahead of rival operating systems from Apple, RIM (NSDQ: RIMM), Nokia (NYSE: NOK) and Microsoft.
Its problem in reaching the smartphone market has been that the x86 architecture that it uses, while well-suited for heavy computation on PCs, consume too much power to be efficient on smartphones with limited battery lives. Instead, smartphones use chips made by companies including Texas Instruments and Samsung, which in turn license the architecture from ARM.
But Intel’s chief executive Paul Otellini, speaking at the conference, said the smartphone market is still in its early stages.
“The smartphone business is not established in terms of the ultimate shakeout of who’s going to win and who is going to lose,” Otellini said. “You saw what happened in terms of how fast Android took share from Apple (NSDQ: AAPL). So good products on good platforms can really still make a big difference in this industry.”
While Android technically already could support Intel chips, the new partnership will make it much easier for a manufacturer to bring an Intel-based Android phone to market.
Until now, it has been up to phone manufacturers to make their Android phones compatible with Intel chips. But future versions of the Android software will be optimised to work with Intel chips and technologies.
“It’s really about Google saying that Intel is going to be a first-class citizen in the Android ecosystem,” said David Kanter, an analyst with Real World Technologies. But he added that Intel still needs to win over handset makers if it hopes to succeed in the smartphone market.
Otellini also again highlighted his confidence in the new “ultrabook” computing market during Tuesday’s speech, saying the lighter, sleeker laptops should hit store shelves in time for Christmas.
This article originally appeared in MediaGuardian.