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Intel steps it up on mobiles, gets Jelly Bean on its chips

Intel(s intc) is increasing its efforts in fast-growing smartphone and tablet markets: It now has the latest version of Google Android(s goog) software, known as Jelly Bean, running on its chips. The news was announced at its Intel Development Forum on Wednesday according to PC Advisor, although the chip-maker can’t predict when Intel-powered smartphones will see the software. We may get a clue next week, however, as Motorola and Intel are holding a joint press event, likely to announce a handset collaboration.

To date, only a handful of Intel-powered smartphones are actually sold around the world and the sales figures for them aren’t likely  meaningful to the market as a whole. Contrast that to the hundreds of millions of handsets powered by Qualcomm(s qcom), Texas Instruments(s txn) and Nvidia(s nvda) to name a few, and you can see the dilemma that Intel is in: Intel Inside was great when the PC market was booming, but smartphones and tablets are the big sellers now.

The biggest obstacle to Intel’s smartphone success has long been the amount of energy used by its chips, which have generally been designed for personal computers. For the past three years, Intel has been working to reduce the power consumption of its silicon and only recently has been able to compete with low-powered chips based on the ARM(s armh) architecture.

CES: Intel powered Android tablet with 10 hour runtimeThe approach between the two has been completely opposite. ARM chips have always focused on low energy usage first and then have added new features and performance gains over time. Intel builds high performing silicon but had to reduced the energy consumption.

As a result of Intel’s efforts, however, the two are closer in both areas than ever before and perhaps Intel hasn’t missed the boat in mobiles. Sure, it was left on the docks for the past few years but has recently impressed: My first look at an Intel-powered Android tablet earlier this year showed outstanding performance with the promise of equal battery life to an ARM-powered slate. Billions of additional smartphones and tablets are expected to sell over the next several years, so perhaps there’s room for Intel yet.

2 Responses to “Intel steps it up on mobiles, gets Jelly Bean on its chips”

  1. On a high end processor, x86 compatibility doesn’t cost all that much chip area anymore, but on small low power chips, the x86 compatibility area (and power) penalty seems likely to continue to be nontrivial. At some point, the penalty will be drowned by the power usage of the rest of system, but has that point been reached? I don’t know.

  2. eldernorm

    While I can see Intel powering the windows surface regular tablet, even Microsoft is going ARM for their regular mobile tablet.

    I am not sure they will ever catch up and Apple has brought its own designers in-house, using an ARM based (licensed forever) design and modified by Apple.

    But Intel is still trying, so you never know.