Solution Providers: Intel Smartphones, 'Wintel' Here To Stay

Intel announced Tuesday at the International Consumer Electronics show that it has formed a "multi-year, multi-device" strategic partnership with Motorola Mobility. The chip maker’s new Atom processor Z2460 “Medfield” platform, designed specifically for low-power use in smartphones and tablets, is telling enough of Intel’s long-awaited entry in the mobility space this year, but the unveiling of its alliance with Motorola seemed to solidify the leap.

Motorola Mobility Chairman and CEO Sanjay Jha joined Intel CEO Paul Otellini on stage to announce that the first Atom Z2460-based Motorola smartphone can be expected this summer. Intel’s new mobile reach, however, doesn’t stop there. PC giant Lenovo is also gearing up to launch its new K800 Android smartphone running on Intel’s new Atom chip starting in China next quarter.

"The best of Intel computing is coming to smartphones," Otellini told the audience. "Our efforts with Lenovo and Motorola Mobility will help to establish Intel processors in smartphones and provide a solid foundation from which to build in 2012 and into the future."

Despite Intel’s late-coming to the mobile space, solution providers are confident in the chip maker’s success. Tough competition from chip licensor ARM – which has traditionally dominated the smartphone and tablet market with its energy-efficient architectures – is a certainty. But, according to solution providers, if any company can join the mobility party this late and still manage to capture market share, it’s Intel.

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Todd Swank, vice president of marketing at Nor-Tech, a Burnsville, Minn.-based solution provider, believes Intel has been preparing for its entry into the smartphone and tablet space for a while now. They simply had to make the move, Swank told CRN, in order to stay relevant.

"Intel didn’t have much of an option," he said. "[Mobility] is a threat to their core business, and they have to be a player there. So this was a great step in the right direction."

David Stinner, president of US itek Group, a Buffalo, New York-based solution provider, shares Swank’s confidence in Intel. "I don’t think it’s going to take them a lot of time to catch up," Stinner said of the chipmaker. "If Intel wants to be in that space, they are going to be in that space."

Not only will Intel succeed, but its mobile push will benefit the channel, Stinner said. The introduction of Intel Atom processors into the mobile market will lead to greater choice and more competitive pricing for both channel players and end users.

"Whenever there is more of an open market, I think there is more opportunity for us," explained Stinner. "I mean, the fact that we are going to have the Intel instruction set on a smartphone and hopefully other form factor devices that Motorola Mobility and Google will build in the future, I think that means a lot of new opportunities are going to arise for solution providers compared to other processors that have been used in the past."

What’s more, Intel’s alliance with channel-friendly companies such as Lenovo shows promise for solution providers, Stinner continued. ARM’s Cortex processors have a history with top OEMs including LG and Apple, but the U.K.-based chip licensor hasn’t traditionally extended its reach to major channel advocates.

NEXT: What It All Means For Wintel

Intel’s alliance with Motorola and Lenovo has confirmed the chip maker’s imminent entry into the smartphone and tablet space. The move also, however, calls into question the future of Wintel, or Intel’s long-standing partnership with Microsoft for desktop dominance.

Through its support of Motorola Mobility – a company in the process of being acquired by Google – Intel is strong support for Android. And, as a company that has aligned itself almost exclusively with Microsoft’s Windows OS, Intel’s announcement may have come as a bit of a surprise.

Solution providers, however, aren’t convinced that Intel’s new alliances pose a threat to the Wintel empire. Swank, for instance, views Intel’s new partnerships as part of a broader strategy to extend its reach in the mobile market. The chip maker isn’t turning its back on Microsoft, he said. It’s simply exploring new opportunities.

With Windows 8, Swank continued, Microsoft has opened its doors to new partnerships, too. The software giant designed Windows 8 to run not only on Intel’s x86 chips, but ARM archictures as well. This move, Swank said, perhaps nudged Intel to initiate a new alliance of its own.

Lyle Epstein, president of Kortek Solutions, a Las Vegas-based solution provider, shared Swank’s theory. "I don’t think the Wintel era is coming to an end," Epstein told CRN. "I think it is just changing the dynamics of the game. With Microsoft supporting ARM in Windows 8 and Intel’s new Atom chips which already work with Microsoft, Intel is just opening up their products to new markets and segments that have been owned by Qualcomm and others for years."

Another reason to trust in the resiliency of the Wintel era is the staying power of the more traditional PC, Stinner said. It’s too early to tell whether the Wintel reign will waver in the tablet and smartphone space, but Intel and Microsoft will always be powerhouses in the desktop and notebook markets. And this second group, though overshadowed at times by today’s mobility hype, isn’t going away any time soon, Stinner said.

"The fact that are so many smartphones displacing 'dumb' phones and so many tablets existing when they didn’t exist in the past… does this mean the PC is going to go away? And does that mean the Wintel empire would come to an end? I don’t think so," Stinner said. "I think we all put a PC on our desk, put a phone in our pocket, put a laptop in our bag, and then we add a tablet… I think all these form factors are going to continue to exist."

Swank pointed out that the traditional PC form factor is being revived through Intel’s introduction of the Ultrabook. This, he said, is sure to solidify the Wintel relationship. "I think we will continue to see them work together," Swank told CRN. "Ultrabooks will have a huge play for both companies, and I think Windows 8 will work really well there."

At the end of the day, he continued, more form factors and more mobile architectures mean more choices for the market –and that’s always a good thing. "Ultimately, the people who win will be the consumers because more choices and more competition means better pricing and better products," Swank said. "We are all probably a winner. But it’s just really fun to watch."