Time will heal Intel's mobile woes ... eventually

The enterprise world doesn't change overnight, so Intel has plenty of time to compete in the mobile world

I keep reading column after column about the Windows 8 strategy of "Intel and ARM, not Intel or ARM," as stated by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer last week, and I'm convinced this is the logical progression that will take place. I also believe Intel has nothing to worry about in terms of being made irrelevant in mobile by Microsoft's embrace of ARM.

Granted, Intel would certainly love to have a foothold in the mobile side of Windows 8, but it's obvious Intel isn't ready to tackle the lower-power-usage ARM chips. It makes sense that Windows 8 tablets will mainly be ARM affairs that run just the Metro portion of Windows 8.

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But don't count Intel out of the mobile game altogether. There are several reasons not to.

First, if you're going off the premise that the billions of PC users in the enterprise will "toss their systems in the trash and replace them with tablets overnight, you're dreaming," as said by ZDnet's well-known blogger Ed Bott. Consider recent history with Windows XP: The enterprise didn't adopt Vista and is only now moving toward Windows 7. Windows 8 has much to compete with on the mobile front, and on the desktop, PCs running either Windows 7 or 8 will dominate for a long time to come. Perhaps in five -- or more -- years we will see the mobile world phase out the PC, but Intel still holds hundreds of millions of systems in its grasp and has the time to come up with a competitive processor to ARM's family (the Apple A5, Qualcomm Snapdragon, and Samsung Cortex-A9).

Second, Intel isn't sitting on its hands. It is working on reduced-power processors and this week debuted an experimental processor (code-named Claremont) with a near-threshold voltage processor. The processor ran a Linux PC (OK, it still needs some more juice to run Windows) with a solar cell the size of a postage stamp. A solar-powered near-threshold processor! It also demonstrated another project called the hybrid memory cube, an incredibly efficient memory interface.

Third, even from a mobile perspective, the move to Windows 8 won't happen overnight. Considering how many millions of people have purchased iPads, Galaxy Tabs, and such, no one should expect even trendy mobile users to quickly switch platforms to Windows 8, no matter how cool the Metro UI may seem to them. Microsoft is a newcomer to the tablet game, and people are already committed to the iPad or Android in most cases, so it will take time to see a shift. Intel has a chance to use that time to focus its efforts on mobile processors.

I'm not saying Intel isn't concerned or worried about this new world. In August, my colleague Ted Samson wrote in his column that the chipmaker was caught with its pants down while ARM processors exploded in the mobile market. As my other colleague Galen Gruman points out in his column "Microsoft crushes Intel's mobile hopes," this came about mainly because "it was the only chip game in town, save for AMD, whose chips were essentially clones, not a different technology." Although I agree with both sentiments, I don't concede that Intel's hopes are indeed crushed. They're simply deferred while Intel refocuses its attention.

If Windows 8 teaches us anything, it's that a company with powerful resources and a bank of incredible engineering talent can come from behind to wow even the most cynical. As proof, I present Gruman's recent article entitled "Watch out, Apple: Windows 8 could trump the iPad." I never thought I'd see the day. The article has reserved tones throughout, but it's clear the Microsoft Build conference impressed my friend enough that he couldn't help but praise what he saw.

I believe Intel just needs a chance to respond to the cynicism with something that will give ARM a competitor in the mobile world. Competition is healthy in the world of technology. And we've seen what happens when there is none.

This article, "Time will heal Intel's mobile woes ... eventually," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Read more of J. Peter Bruzzese's Enterprise Windows blog and follow the latest developments in Windows at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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