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Intel poised to make inroads in mobile market

Intel still faces an uphill battle in its competition with ARM to win over mobile device makers but the chip giant is expected to make slow but steady progress with some key design wins in 2013, according to Taiwanese components manufacturers speaking with DigiTimes.

The Taiwanese tech site this week reported that Intel "has earned the trust of some first-tier brand vendors," including Lenovo, Acer, and Asus, many of which are planning smartphones and tablets for 2013 which will utilise Intel's new and soon-to-be-released Atom chips for devices running Google's Android mobile operating system.

Intel last year showcased a variety of hybrid tablet-laptops powered by its Atom processors and also partnered with Lenovo and Indian handset firm Lava International on the first Atom-based smartphones. Microsoft's new Surface Pro tablet also uses an Intel chip, but it's a more powerful Core processor rather than an Atom.

Acer, Lava, and Safaricom are building new smartphones based on Intel's single-core, 1.2GHz Atom Z2420, code named Lexington, which the chip giant released at the end of January, DigiTimes reported. Clover Trail+, the dual-core, 1.8GHz Atom Z2580 chip Intel plans to release in the coming weeks, is expected to turn up in tablets and at least one smartphone by Lenovo, the 5.5in, Full HD-display K900 due out in April.

Despite growing traction, Intel "will still have difficulties ... compet[ing] against ARM in the handset industry in 2013," according to the unnamed industry sources cited by DigiTimes. Unfortunately for Intel, that's been the story for half a decade now.

Back in January 2008, just months after Apple introduced its first-generation iPhone, Intel CEO Paul Otellini wowed the crowd at the Consumer Electronics Show with a new product category it called the Mobile Internet Device, or MID. Compact little handhelds built on Intel's x86-based processors, MIDs were supposed to take the baton from the then-promising Ultra-mobile PC (UMPC) products a few companies were making and usher in a new era of computing.

The bad news for Intel was, that new era did eventually come in the larger form of tablets, led by Apple's groundbreaking first-gen iPad - but the manufacturers of those devices did an end-around on Intel and used battery-friendly ARM-based processors to power them instead of x86 chips.

The upshot is that Intel appears to have licked its wounds over largely missing out on the mobile boom and refocused on pushing out chips tailored for mobile devices that can finally rival those made by ARM licensees like Apple, Samsung, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and MediaTek.