Dan Rowinski's Mobile Platform

By Dan Rowinski

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Intel's mobile struggles continue as it clings to MeeGo

Intel has really dropped the ball when it comes to this whole mobile thing.

The company's stock in trade, x86 chipsets that have dominated the PC market more or less since it began, were never meant for mobile devices. The chips are too complex and too power-hungry to run a smart phone with capacitive touch, multiple radios, etc.

Intel’s version of a mobile processor, the Atom series, has more or less been a flop. There is not one major series of smart phones (at least in the American landscape) that employs Atom as a primary processor. Everything is ARM-based, including Texas Instruments OMAP, Qualcomm SnapDragon, Samsung’s Hummingbird and Nvidia’s Tegra series. There is also the AMD Fusion series of chips that are trying to gain traction. AMD is the traditional rival to Intel in the x86 market.

Intel had to figure that its best play was to align itself with the largest phone manufacturer in the world in Nokia with its Symbian and MeeGo smart-phone platforms. The idea was to help Nokia get MeeGo up and running with engineer and programming help and hopefully get Atom chips into a wide array of Nokia devices around the world. As of yet, no smart phone uses an Atom-based chip at its core, though Intel has deployed the series into netbooks and notebooks.

MeeGo was announced at the Mobile World Congress in 2010 as Nokia merged its Linux-based Maemo OS with Intel’s Linux Moblin project.

Then the carpet got pulled out from under Intel’s mobile advancement when Nokia decided to go hand-in-hand with Microsoft and Windows Mobile 7 and abandoned MeeGo. It will probably phase out Symbian over the next year or so.

But that has not stopped Intel from going forward with MeeGo.

Which really makes no sense at all.

MeeGo was a collaborative industry effort by a lot of the mobile players who were not yet tied to the Apple (iOS), Google (Android), Research in Motion (BlackBerry), or Microsoft (Windows Mobile 7) boats. AMD was part of the collaboration, along with various other developers. The allure was understandable – create a dynamic platform for Nokia so the dominant hardware manufacturer in the world can legitimately battle Apple and Google.

Why do you think Microsoft jumped at the opportunity?

Yet, MeeGo and Symbian are overly complex for developers, and it makes their rollout schedules slow and cumbersome. The CEO of ARM, Warren East, said in an interview with Reuters at the MWC in Barcelona, Spain, that Intel still has a long way to go in the mobile world. Intel is “still a long way apart in processors on the market. Unless they can make their processors smaller, they will struggle,” East said.

Intel’s CEO, Paul Otellini, is confident that Intel phones will hit the market this year, whether it be with Atom or perhaps a new mobile processor called Medfield.

Intel showed a developer prototype tablet running MeeGo at the MWC and the response was tepid, to say the least. At this point it looks like Intel is a fish swimming upstream with a lot of hungry bears patrolling the rapids, and there is no guarantee that Intel will ever be a player in the mobile sphere. With tablet PC and smart phone adoption projected to skyrocket in the next several years, that could be a big knock to the chip giant's bottom line.


Posted by Dan Rowinski on Feb 17, 2011 at 12:19 PM


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