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Intel Embraces Android in Mobile Push

In a major change of direction, Intel Corp. has thrown its weight behind Android.

By Mark LaPedus, Senior Editor

At the Intel Development Forum in San Francisco, Intel and Google Inc. disclosed that they will work together to enable and optimize future versions of Android for Intel’s family of x86-based Atom processors. The joint effort is designed to accelerate Atom-based smartphones running Google’s Android software platform.

“Together we are accelerating Intel architecture and bringing new levels of innovation to a maturing Android platform,” said Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini, at the Intel Development Forum.

The move represents a new strategy for Intel. The chip giant has been working with Nokia to develop Atom-based smartphones built on the so-called MeeGo mobile Linux software. Hosted by the Linux Foundation, MeeGo is a Linux-based, open source software platform supporting the Atom and ARM architectures.

Earlier this year, however, Nokia made a major shift and embraced a rival mobile software technology: Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 software. Instead of MeeGo, Nokia will use Windows 7 for its main operating system for its new smartphones.

The move has raised questions about the future of MeeGo at Nokia. At Intel, MeeGo is still ‘’alive and well in our embedded business,’’ said Otellini during a question and answer session at IDF. MeeGo is being targeted for the automotive and embedded space, he said.

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But Atom-based smartphones running on MeeGo were supposed to be out in the fourth quarter of 2011. Now, it’s unclear if or when those phones will appear. As a result, Intel has lost ‘’six months’’ in its ongoing quest to bring Atom into the mainstream mobile market, Otellini said.

Now, Intel is embracing Android for Atom-based smartphones. Unlike MeeGo, which is floundering, Android is hot. ‘’Android will give (Intel) a better chance to get into the mobile phone market,’’ said Dick James, an analyst with Chipworks Inc.

"Combining Android with Intel’s low power smartphone roadmap opens up more opportunity for innovation and choice,” said Andy Rubin, senior vice president of Mobile at Google. “This collaboration will drive the Android ecosystem forward.”

This work will enable mobile device OEMs and wireless operators to draw upon the performance and low power capabilities of Intel architecture and tap into the scale of the x86 developer ecosystem to further drive the adoption of the Android platform.

The announcement builds upon Intel and Google’s recent joint initiatives to enable Intel architecture on Google products, which include Chrome OS and Google TV along with the Android Software Development Kit (SDK) and Native Development Kit (NDK).

Besides the smartphone, Intel is moving full speed ahead with its previously-announced “Ultrabook’’ effort. Running Microsoft’s new Windows 8 OS, Ultrabooks are portable systems targeting the tablet PC and related markets.

At IDF, Intel’s CEO said the company will further accelerate Ultrabook products using a processor based on the company’s new 22nm process. The recently-announced process is built around a tri-gate transistor structure.

Intel’s first processor based on this technology is called Ivy Bridge. The next version is codenamed Haswell, which is tailored for Ultrabooks. Otellini described the new class of platform power management in development for the 2013 “Haswell” products for Ultrabooks. Haswell is said to reduce idle platform power by more than 20 times over current designs, according to Intel.

 


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Mark LaPedus has covered the semiconductor industry since 1986, including five years in Asia when he was based in Taiwan. He has held senior editorial positions at Electronic News, EBN and Silicon Strategies. In Asia, he was a contributing writer for Byte Magazine. Most recently, he worked as the semiconductor editor at EE Times.