Intel snags Honeycomb source, prepares x86 port

Intel has confirmed that it is working on porting Google's tablet-centric Android 3.0 'Honeycomb' OS to the x86 instruction set, ahead of the launch of its Oak Trail line of low-power processors.

During an earnings call with analysts and press, Intel chief Paul Otellini confirmed that his company had "received the Honeycomb code from Google," and that work was under way to port the platform from its native ARM-based instruction set to x86 - a move that's vital if Intel is serious about competing in the tablet market.

While the company's exiting Atom range of low-power processors are still too hungry for standard tablet designs, Intel has a trick up its sleeve: Oak Trail, a new low-power line of processors which borrow the 'system-on-chip' design methodology from British chip giant ARM, a company which holds a virtual monopoly in the mobile and ultra-low power processor markets.

The Oak Trail chips, Intel claims, will offer a simple single-chip alternative to ARM designs from manufacturers such as Nvidia, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments, combining GPU, CPU, and communications hardware into a single physical chip.

Although Otellini shied away from offering a firm launch date for the new chip range, he did let slip that Intel has signed up companies including Acer, Asus, and Lenovo to make devices based around Oak Trail - with hardware expected some time in the second half of this year.

The porting of Honeycomb to x86 is interesting for two reasons: it demonstrates that Intel is serious about competing with ARM in the burgeoning tablet market, and it indicates that it has a good relationship with Android creator Google, which has provided the source code to Intel despite keeping it out of public eyes and refusing to release the code under its usual open-source licence.

The news of a Honeycomb port came as Otellini confirmed that the first smartphones featuring its Medfield processor would be appearing on the market before the end of the year - although whether Intel's relatively high-power processors can truly offer serious competition to ARM designs is something that the market will decide over the next year.