Here’s a phrase you don’t hear very often: Smart phones with Intel processors. But if Intel’s next-generation Atom x3/5/7 processor series takes off as expected, we could be seeing a lot more of the microprocessor giant’s technologies in our phones. And a key part of this strategy, believe it or not, is Windows 10 for phones.
Intel outted its entry-level Atom x3-C3000 processor series at Mobile World Congress this week. According to its promotional materials, this new platform offers “lightning fast” processing, “vivid HD video,” and “jaw-dropping graphics.” But it will simply be impressive if Intel can just be technically competitive in a product category which is today dominated entirely by ARM.
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Intel has a few things going for it.
The company has been pushing at mobile for a few years now, and while the smart phone world hasn’t exactly embraced Intel, we have already seen some Android-based Intel x86 tablets appear, and they do seem to work about as well as their ARM counterparts. (That said, they’ve been relegated to the low-end of the market so far.)
Second, the Atom x3 has an ARM graphics core—albeit an older ARM core—which is used in tandem with a traditional x86-based Atom processor. So “Intel Inside” is taking on a new look here: If you can’t beat them, join them. Or at least meet them halfway.
Third, of course, is Intel’s long-standing partnership with Microsoft and the decades of work the two firms have done to steadily improve Windows together. Yes, Windows Phone has been ARM-centric since inception, and yes Microsoft experimented with ARM for Windows RT. But with Windows 10 forming the basis for Windows on phones going forward, it’s possible—just possible—that Intel could gain a foothold in this market thanks simply to its long-time Microsoft relationship.
The first Intel-based smart phones will be Android designs, which makes sense given the past work on Intel-based Android tablets. But I’m curious about the possibilities of Intel-based Windows phones.
According to discussions Intel has had at MWC—including this one with PC World—the first Intel-based Windows Phones will be “basic,” low-end designs. It’s not clear which hardware makers (if any) will adopt their chipset, which came to Intel as part of an Infineon purchase and a partnership with a Chinese chip making firm.
But Intel will also scale these Atom-branded chips higher and you won’t be surprised to discover that Atom x5 and x7 chips are coming down the pike too, and they will offer better performance and mobility. A number of device makers—like Dell, HP, Lenovo, Acer, and Toshiba—are onboard to ship Intel x5 and x7 chips in tablets, but these chips would work well in high-end smart phones too.
Which makes me wonder: isn’t Microsoft the perfect—if not obvious—partner to deliver Intel x5/7-based flagship Windows 10 phones?
I guess we’ll see.