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Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini is set to retire in May, leaving the chip maker's crucial transition to the mobile market in the hands of an unnamed successor.
According to solution providers, that successor, who Intel said could be tapped from outside the company, will have big shoes to fill, as Otellini has already helped Intel carve a space for itself -- even if it's a space that's overshadowed by rival chip maker ARM -- in the lucrative smartphone and tablet markets.
"The industry is changing rapidly and obviously Intel is being affected by it, with the transition to mobile and all the dominance ... of ARM chips in phones and tablets and everything lately," said Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based solution provider and Intel partner. "It will be really interesting to see who they choose."
In the mobile market, Intel faces an uphill battle against U.K.-based chip licensor ARM, whose low-power architectures are used to fuel over 90 percent of the today's smartphones and tablets. Still, during Otellini's eight years at the helm, Intel has started to fight for a slice of that share; the company has recently gone to market with its Atom "Medfield" and "Clover Trail" processors for smartphones and tablets, the latter of which has already nabbed over 20 tablet and convertible PC design wins with OEMs including Lenovo and Dell.
Maintaining this momentum must be a priority for Intel's new CEO, partners believe, as tablet and smartphone adoption soars, and worldwide PC sales continue to stall. Intel's PC Client group last quarter saw an 8 percent year-on-year revenue drop, with its fourth-quarter outlook looking equally as grim.
According to Nor-Tech's Swank, Otellini's replacement needs to be somebody who can build upon Intel's mobile strategy, without losing focus of the chip maker's bread-and-butter markets, such as high-end PCs and servers.
"It's hard to believe that [Intel] would hire somebody from the outside. They've never done that before. But I mean, it's different times," Swank told CRN. "I mean, look at their stock price, it's down pretty low right now. So I imagine they want to get some new blood, new ideas and new focus. But, then again, they don’t want to lose what's made them strong and made them the great company they are today."
Gary Bixler, founder and president of channel consultancy firm Bixler Enterprises, agreed that Otellini's retirement comes at a very crucial time for the chip maker, given today's shift toward mobile computing.
"The transition to mobile is having such an impact on the industry, and that creates an interesting inflection point for Intel. Even without a leadership change, it was going to be interesting times," Bixler told CRN. "So I think everyone will be watching closely. It will be an opportunity for them to maybe take advantage of that inflection point and transition to a leadership team that is even more capable in that mobile arena."