Intel completes porting Android 4.1 to smartphones with its chips

However, Intel can't say when smartphones will be updated with the latest Android OS

Intel has ported Google's Android 4.1 OS, called "Jelly Bean," to work on smartphones based on the low-power Atom chips code-named Medfield.

"I'm running it," said Mike Bell, Intel's vice president and general manager of the mobile computing group, during an interview at the Intel Developer Forum in San Francisco.

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Multiple Intel employees are using Medfield smartphones with Jelly Bean, Bell added.

Smartphones with Intel chips today ship to customers with either Android 2.3 or Android 4.0, but Bell couldn't predict when those handsets would be updated to Android 4.1.

"We can't put it on the phones. We have to give it to the carriers to put on the phones, and they go through acceptance testing," Bell said, adding that he can't announce Android 4.1 testing or deployment on behalf of carriers or device makers.

Intel is just getting started in the smartphone market, with devices based on a single-core Atom chip being launched by customers such as Orange, ZTE, Lava International, Lenovo, and Megafon. Motorola is expected to announce a smartphone based on Intel chips next week in London. Very few smartphones have been launched with the latest version of Android, though companies are promising to deliver over-the-air upgrades.

Intel has been unusually quiet about smartphones at IDF, instead focusing on ultrabooks, tablets, and servers. Intel is still trying to establish a presence in a market dominated by ARM, whose processors go into most smartphones that ship today, including Apple's iPhones. The first smartphone with an Intel chip started shipping in April and the company is happy with its progress, Bell said.

"A year ago people were saying 'can Intel do a smartphone?' and now people are saying 'how long till you [grow]?' It's a much better question to deal with," Bell said.

Intel has a dual-core Medfield chip coming out later this year and smartphones based on the chip will be out early next year. Intel next year will also release an integrated chip made using the 22-nanometer process for low-end smartphones. The chip will be a follow-up to the current single-core Atom Z2000 chip, which runs at 1GHz but is not yet being used in smartphones.

Intel's smartphones are considered to be more power hungry than those with ARM chips, but Intel hopes to catch up by pushing ahead on its manufacturing process. Intel next year will release a low-power Atom chip code-named Merrifield for high-end smartphones. The chip will be made using the 22-nm process and be faster and more power efficient than current Medfield chips, which are made using the 32-nm process. By 2014, Intel will release chips made using the 14-nm process, though further details are not available.

The company's focus is on Android for smartphones and Windows 8 for tablets. But the company is also looking at the Linux-based Tizen OS for multiple segments including mobile devices and in-car entertainment.

Some smartphone makers have shown an interest in Tizen, said Doug Fisher, vice president at Intel, during an interview. Fisher is also on the board of The Linux Foundation, which manages the development of Tizen.

Tizen addresses the desire for Intel to have an open platform for multiple segments. Intel continues to contribute to Tizen's development, Fisher said.

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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