Behind Intel's trash-talking about Windows on ARM

Intel has a strategy to keep users from defecting to ARM-based post-PC devices, but it may not work

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As no doubt a concession to its longtime partner Intel, Microsoft has essentially crippled ARM-based devices by letting them run only the Metro part of Windows 8, which is what Windows RT really is. But unless the special ARM version of Office that will be bundled with Windows RT is a disaster, the PC will have crossed the ARM Rubicon. The only real question will be when the army reaches Rome -- not if.

Between the iPad/iOS X and Windows RT, Intel sees a world based on the rival ARM chips.

Intel's anti-ARM actions so far have had little impact
Intel isn't stupid, and it's made several moves to adapt to the world of tablets and other post-PC devices. The problem is that these moves have been half-hearted.

A slow burn for Android on Intel. One move is the effort to port Android to Intel chips, which Intel began two years ago. Really bad Android tablets running on Intel chips and an inferior version of Android port shipped nearly two years ago. Intel got more serious with its decision to port Android 4 "Ice Cream Sandwich" (ICS) last fall to its low-power "Medfield" Atom CPUs, but that effort has been slow going. It's not clear why, but I get the strong impression that Google doesn't really care about Intel's Android desires, so Intel is kept at the back of the line in terms of support and access to the pseudo-open source Android code.

A few weeks ago, Intel shipped the first "Medfield" Atom smartphones in India, but they don't run Android ICS yet. The only good news on the Android front for Intel is that "Ice Cream Sandwich" has been creeping at a snail's pace for everyone, though Google declines to explain why. The fact that Intel is way behind on its Android effort is obscured by ICS's low availability.

It's clear that the Android-on-Intel strategy is not the key one to defend Intel's core chip business. But if Intel can get that going, it'll help Intel in an area we in North America and Europe rarely consider: the developing world, where PCs are not common but phones are. Intel needs smartphones, whether Android or something else, to use its chips if it wants to be as universal in future computing devices as it is in PCs today.

Ultrabooks try to defend today's PC turf. The other move is Intel's Ultrabook specification announced last year. It was directly aimed not at ARM-based tablets but at Apple's MacBook Air, which had no credible Windows challengers since its 2008 debut.

But make no mistake: The Air is a key part of Apple's strategy to converge the tablet and the laptop. Someday, iOS X will be able to run the kinds of apps that an Air can do today.

A future Air will be an iPad with an attached keyboard and greater storage capacity, and Intel understood that. It needed to at least push the PC vendors to have comparable hardware for the here and now to lessen the migration of PC users to the Air and, ultimately, to the iPad as a primary device. Because PC makers don't actually design PCs, just their skins, Intel had to do the heavy lifting to bring PCs to parity with the Air, which meant not just the Core i5 chips they use but all the related motherboard circuitry.

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