Open Handset Alliance Profile: Intel

News and Rumors Open Handset Alliance Profile: Intel

Company Name: Intel Corporation

Okay, so the alphabetical order is messed. Last week I did KDDI, this week I do Intel. This is not alphabetical order, this is blogger-who’s-gimped-in-the-head order. I missed one, I can admit it, I’m person enough; and now, I’m doubling back to correct my error.

How the OHA site classifies them: Semiconductor Company

What the OHA site says about them: Intel, the world leader in silicon innovation, develops technologies, products and initiatives to continually advance how people work and live.

What they do: They’re frickin’ Intel, that’s what they do. They hang around making semiconductors, toppling foreign governments, inventing x86s, controlling minds, sabotaging not-for-profit educational laptop makers, screwing with AMD, confounding the properties of matter, and formulating laws of computing.

They make network cards and cheap-ass video chipsets and motherboard chipsets and stuff. Mainly, though, they’re known for their processors. Very well known, in fact; since the Pentium chips came along in the early nineties and the company launched the Intel Inside advertising campaign, they’re about the only semiconductor manufacturer that most people know by name. Qualcomm, Broadcom, Via, Transmeta, and even AMD are largely unknown outside the tech world, but Intel as a brand is nearly as recognizable as Microsoft, an immense achievement given that 90% of people will probably never lay eyes on, never mind handle, the CPU in their PC.

However, for my money the most interesting thing about Intel is not what they have done before, but rather what they have not done (at least for the most part): mess with cell phones. Just what are they doing in the OHA?

What they bring to OHA and Android:

Intel is savvy. They know what’s going on. They can see the future of personal computing as surely as you or I: smaller, more personal, pocket-sized computing platforms. They know where the action is.

Intel also has a history of chip designs intended for more mobile platforms. Names like Centrino, Pentium M, and Santa Rosa are the marketing front ends for a number of low-power-consumption processor and/or mainboard and/or video chipset combinations intended for use in laptops. My current laptop runs a Santa Rosa platform (even the video card, which was a little bit of a mistake, but I was attracted by Intel’s healthy open-source driver support; unfortunately just because a driver is open-source doesn’t mean it’s good open source).

Intel was a part of the initiative that gifted us with the UMPC (which stands for Uber-Mini PC or something) devices, many of which use the chip maker’s low-voltage processors. Now, I’ve never actually seen one of these in the wild, although I know manufacturers keep revealing new models, hoping someone will bite. They look like a neat concept on paper: take a laptop, make it really, really, small, add some dedicated-function buttons, make it almost as powerful as a full-sized notebook, and sell it for business use. Problem is, they’re pretty expensive for something that is too small for full-time use but too large to fit in a pocket, and I think they’re getting squeezed out by Blackberries and smartphones on one end and low-cost ultra-portables (like the EEE PC) on the other end.

Intel seems to have some to a similar conclusion, and is now behind an initiative to re-purpose UMPCs for the Internet-browsing media-viewing consumer crowd. They’re calling this new class of device the MID, or Mobile Internet Device, and basically it’s a UMPC minus office apps with a couple of inches shaved off. In other words, it’s even closer to a smartphone. Intel has indicated that these devices will run Linux; they’ve even partnered with the Ubuntu folks to create an Ubuntu for MIDs distro.

There’s also a new chip spec coming down the pipe for these things: the Intel Atom. Tiny little ultra-low-power 45nm x86 jobs in the 1.6-1.8ghz-ish range, intended for MIDs and, wait for it… mobile phones.

So Intel is in the middle of a push to own the chips-for-handheld-computing market, and its involvement with the OHA and Android is one piece of that movement. This is why the link on the OHA site under the Intel blurb points to the MDI-specific Intel page, not just the main company site.

And I say bring ’em on; my current phone has a 200mhz processor, but Intel’s talking close to 2ghz for the Atom processors, literally an order of magnitude more powerful. I realize that the picture is more complicated than simply a question of hertz, but you can’t tell me an Atom processor wouldn’t whip my little OMAP’s ass. And that’s cool.

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