Why Intel came too late to the smartphone party

Intel chief executive officer Paul Otellini has bemoaned his company's late realisation that smartphones were going to be big business.

The poor chap blamed himself. “I wish I had been smart enough to start it seven years ago because we’d be in a good position today, but I wasn’t,” he told a meeting of the Council on Foreign Relations in New York.

According to Otellini, Intel only began working on chips for phones four years ago. The result was the Atom, a chip low-powered enough to kick off the netbook market but which Intel is still struggling to make economical enough with the juice for it to be a serious contender in hand-held devices.

“I wish we had started earlier,” Otellini said.

He said Intel-powered smartphones will begin to tip up next year. The firm is currently flogging Atoms to Nokia and LG Electronics.

Intel has long cast envious glances at UK chip design firm ARM. The Cambridge-based outfit probably licensed the chip in the phone in your pocket right now.

Intel's first assault on ARM was a PR exercise, claiming the Internet was based on x86 architecture and ARM designs were therefore less worthy than Intel's clumsy efforts. When that didn't work it went back to the drawing board to make better chips.

While slowly getting there, it decided to open its wallet and buy up Infineon Technologies' wireless chips business for about $1.4 billion in August, adhering to the old mantra: if you can't beat 'em, buy 'em.