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Like its longtime partner Microsoft, Intel is feverishly trying to increase its share of the mobile market. Also like Microsoft, the chip maker has to combat a number of competitors first.
Most notable among Intel's rivals is ARM, the U.K.-based chip licenser whose low-power architectures are leveraged by chip makers including Texas Instruments, Samsung and Qualcomm. ARM-based processors today dominate the smartphone and tablet markets, and Qualcomm, in particular, was projected by analyst firm IHS iSuppli to be the fastest-growing chip maker of 2012, with its revenue soaring more than 27 percent.
Intel, meanwhile, is expected to see its revenue slide 2.4 percent, as the PC market continues in its downward spiral.
But analysts and solution providers interviewed by CRN seemed far more optimistic about Intel's efforts in the mobile market than Microsoft's. Though clearly late to the smartphone and tablet game, Intel's new Atom processors, most agree, look promising, and prove that the chip giant is heading in the right direction.
Intel this year came to market with its new 32 nm Atom Z2460, code-named "Medfield," processor, which was targeted largely at the smartphone market. The Santa Clara, Calif.-based chip maker also announced a handful of smartphone design wins outside of the U.S., including ones with Motorola, Lenovo and ZTE.
According to Linley Gwennap, president and principal analyst at The Linley Group, a microprocessor-focused analyst firm, Intel is just warming up in the smartphone market. And, while the company has a way to go before catching up with ARM, that possibility should by no means be ruled out.
"I think it's pretty easy for people -- particularly in the United States -- to say, 'Well Intel isn't getting anywhere with smartphones'," Gwennap told CRN. "I do think in 2013 we will start to see Intel in some of the top-branded smartphones and some of the real marquee phones that big companies are pushing."
Much of Gwennap's confidence stems from Intel's upcoming 22 nm Atom processors, which are expected to be even more powerful and efficient than Medfield, and are slated to launch next year.
Even Intel's current 32 nm Medfield Atom chips have been found to be comparable to some ARM-based chips today. When AnandTech's Brian Klug reviewed the Lava Xolo X900 -- the first smartphone to run an Intel Medfield processor -- he proclaimed the myth of Intel's x86 architectures not being low-power enough for smartphones as officially "busted."
"While the X900 doesn't lead in battery life, it's competitive with the [Samsung] Galaxy S 2 and Galaxy Nexus," Klug wrote. "In terms of power efficiency, the phone is distinctly middle of the road -- competitive with many of the [Texas Instruments' ARM-based] OMAP 4-based devices on the market today. If you've been expecting the first x86 smartphone to end up at the bottom of every battery life chart, you'll be sorely disappointed."