Just two weeks after the departure of Paul Otellini, Intel’s new CEO is making some big changes to the company that will allow it to go toe-to-toe with mobile chip makers such as Qualcomm. The new CEO, Brian Krzanich, first appointed Mike Bell to head up the newly created New Devices division, and on Tuesday Intel acquired the division of ST-Ericsson that makes mobile GPS chips.
The acquisition might sound small, but when you bear in mind that Intel is one of the least acquisitive companies in Silicon Valley and factor in the creation of a New Devices unit, it’s clear that Intel is gearing up to take the smartphone and tablet markets by storm.
When I last spoke to Mike Bell, he was the co-chief of Intel’s mobile chip business, along with Hermann Eul. Back then, in the summer of 2012, his department had just shipped Medfield, which wasn’t all that exciting. What was exciting, however, was that Intel created a reference smartphone specifically for Medfield, so that carriers and OEMs could get to market with a Medfield-powered device very easily.
When I asked him if this was the beginning of a trend, he said: “For every chipset, we’re going to do what we call an ‘iconic’ design, to really showcase what [the new SoC] can do. These designs will be available to anyone who wants to build a device based on our chipsets.”
With the new Bay Trail and Merrifield SoCs arriving this winter, and Bell’s move to the New Devices unit, it’s almost guaranteed that Intel will release home-grown smartphones and tablets based on these new, fast, Silvermont-based chips.
Intel, for its part, is being quite mysterious about the New Devices division. “The group will be tasked with turning cool technology and business model innovations into products that shape and lead markets,” Intel’s PR department said in a statement. Intel also says that the new unit will focus on emerging technologies, including ultra-mobile products. Whether that means smartphones, or wearable computers like Google Glass, we can only guess.
Bell, incidentally, was at Palm between 2007 and 2010, bringing the Pre and Pixi to market; and before that, he spent 16 years at Apple, working on the iMac, Apple TV, and iPhone. It’s fairly safe to assume that the New Devices unit, helmed by Mike Bell, will be releasing some sexy mobile devices in the upcoming months.
And then there’s the acquisition of ST-Ericsson’s GPS mobile business. ST-Ericsson, a money losing venture between STMicroelectronics and Ericsson, is in the process of being shut down – and it seems Intel couldn’t resist picking up the GPS business for a cool $90 million (£59 million). With this acquisition, Intel gains the intellectual property, engineers, and technical expertise to produce GPS receiver chips that will most likely find their way into Intel’s new smartphone and tablet devices.
This might seem like a small acquisition, but it’s important to remember that Intel is one of the least acquisitive companies in Silicon Valley. Yes, Intel bought McAfee for a massive $7.7 billion (£5 billion) in 2010 and a handful of other software companies since then, but on the hardware front Intel has been very quiet since acquiring Infineon (a wireless modem maker). Looking through Intel’s entire acquisition history, the company hasn’t acquired more than a handful of hardware businesses – so, while $90 million (£59 million) is one of the company’s smallest acquisitions to date, it’s probably quite significant.
With Intel’s Haswell parts reaching TDPs as low as 7 Watts, the ARM-beating Bay Trail and Merrifield, and perhaps a bevy of new devices in time for Christmas, this could be a very exciting year for Intel and consumers alike.