If you buy an Android smartphone in 2012, there’s a good chance it will be packing an Intel chip instead of an ARM-based processor as current Android devices do.
Google and Intel recently announced that future versions of the Android mobile operating system will be optimized to run on Intel’s x86 chip architecture. Intel is betting that a blessing from Google will convince manufacturers to use Intel’s new Atom-based Medfield system-on-a-chip (SoC) in upcoming Android smartphones. So what does all this mean to you?
Will You Want an Intel-Based Android Phone?
Intel’s Medfield SoC promises to make your next mobile device speedy and responsive, have fast graphics capabilities, and long battery life, according to the company. But corporate promises can often be far removed from reality. Intel’s previous Moorestown mobile chips failed to gain traction with smartphone makers because they were seen as battery killers that ****ed up too much power.
The company hoped a Moorestown phone would show up in early 2011, but nine months into the year and an Intel-powered phone has yet to show up on store shelves. Critics also point to a cancelled project with LG and a difficult alliance with Nokia on the MeeGo mobile platform,, as part of Intel’s failure to get into smartphones.
But, now that Intel is teaming up with Google to tailor Android to x86 specifications, the chip maker’s smartphone fortunes may change. Intel was able to dominate the PC market thanks to its so-called Wintel alliance with Microsoft.
The chip maker is hoping a Gootel alliance might help it do something similar in the smartphone market. Just as Microsoft’s Windows OS ruled the desktop PC, Google’s Android is the current king of the smartphone market, with 40 percent of U.S. smartphones sold and numbers growing rapidly in other countries.
The Good News
Combining Android’s massive popularity with the largest chip maker in the world could be a big win for everyday smartphone shoppers, especially if Google’s Motorola acquisition gets government approval. Google would then own an Android device maker that could work closely with Intel on future versions of Android to further optimize Android devices packing Intel chips for speed, battery life and better graphics.
Then there’s the smartphone’s price tag. Although carrier subsidies bring down device costs to around $200, out-of-contract smartphones cost about $600 to $700. Could Android phone pricing be driven down thanks to the combination of Android’s popularity and Intel’s massive chip-making capabilities? “It’s a possibility,” says Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg. “Sometimes these strategic partnerships lead to major breakthroughs, and sometimes they go nowhere.” (Gartenberg is also a columnist for PC World’s sister publication, Computerworld).
There are still a lot of unanswered questions about the new Google-Intel partnership, but we should get an idea about where the Gootel partnership is headed in early 2012, when the first Android devices with Intel chips are expected to launch.