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FRACTURES IN THE WINTEL ALLIANCE
When it comes to mobility, it's clear that Microsoft and Intel have their own battles to fight. But as they forge their way into the mobile arena, the nature of that close-knit Wintel relationship that first propelled them to dominance is starting to fray.
Though Wintel hasn't officially broken at the seams, the Microsoft-Intel duo is definitely less exclusive than it used to be. Each company, in the interest of its own success in the mobile market, has struck new alliances with its partner's top competitors.
Intel, for its part, announced last January a "multiyear, multidevice" partnership with Google's Motorola Mobility, through which Intel will provide its Atom Z2460 Medfield processors to power some of Motorola's Android-based smartphones. The partnership came as a surprise to many; Intel was clearly throwing its support behind Google's Android, the most dominant smartphone platform in the world, and one of the biggest rivals to Microsoft's own Windows Phone OS. According to Gartner, Windows Phone in the third quarter accounted for 2.4 percent of the worldwide smartphone market, while Google's Android and Apple's iOS accounted for a whopping 72.4 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively.
An Intel processor is used within the Windows 8 Pro version of Microsoft's Surface tablet, but Intel chips have yet to make their way into any Windows Phone-based smartphones. Intel spokesperson Mangano told CRN that, for now, Intel's strategy in the smartphone market is largely centered on Android, but that doesn't mean an Intel-powered Windows Phone device can be completely ruled out.
"So with smartphones right now, our first step is Android," Mangano said. "However, we will certainly look to support other [operating systems] when the market or our customers demand it."
Meanwhile, Microsoft this year made a move of its own that hinted the Wintel alliance was eroding: partnering with ARM. The software giant even optimized its new Windows RT OS, which runs on the lower-end model of its Surface tablet, for ARM architectures.
But despite this new alliance with ARM, a Microsoft spokesperson told CRN it will "continue to work closely with Intel to bring more amazing products to market."
Moorhead of Moor Insights & Strategy said it's good for Microsoft and Intel to branch out and form new partnerships as they continue to build their mobile strategies. Microsoft is poised to benefit from teaming up with ARM, just as Intel is with Android.
"Intel and Microsoft have the most fractured relationship they have ever had and it's growing wider by the day," Moorhead said. "But it's actually good for both of them. It's good for them to do something different."
Intel and Microsoft partners feel the same. Douglas Grosfield, president and CEO of Xylotek Solutions, an Ontario-based Microsoft partner, believes the broader Wintel alliance in PCs is here to stay. But, in the mobility space, he has noticed Intel and Microsoft pulling away from one another, and believes it's the right move for both companies. "You ask anybody in the tech world what Wintel is, and they know. It's very compelling, and that's never going to change," Grosfield said. "The fact that Intel is branching off a little bit more ... [and] making more inroads than they have in the past, such as with Google's Android, that can't help but be a good thing."
Grosfield also said he's rooting for Microsoft and Intel to succeed in mobility just to keep Apple on its toes. He noted that the smartphone and tablet space today is dominated by Apple, a factor that could limit innovation and squash fair competition moving forward.
"I think you'll find a hard time finding anybody in the tech community who wouldn't root for somebody who is going head-to-head with Apple, just for the sheer pleasure of taking them down a peg or two. A monopoly is no good for anybody, and Apple, frankly, has a monopoly in the mobile space in a lot of ways," Grosfield said. "For the business-to-business space, that's not good for the market. Competition is where innovation truly happens."
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