Does Intel Have Any Mobile Growth Opportunities Left?

Completely dominated by ARM processors, the massive and growing smartphone market is an area where Intel has only recently landed. And the chipmaker understandable seems to be concerned with its lacking position in the mobile market. In the end, smartphone shipments have exceeded the number of PCs, marking an unavoidable turning point for Intel, its partnership strategy and its product line up.

Intel is no longer willing to ignore such a large segment of the market and that is why the company is investing most of their time on mobile phones computing – in particular developing next generation Intel chips for smartphones, alliance with leading smartphone players and acquiring and investing in software services for mobile apps.

At Mobile World Congress this week, many, including Intel, have taken the opportunity to reintroduce themselves to the world, with a fresh take on the mobile industry.  A year has made all the difference for Intel in particular, as the chipmaker has a significantly broader line up of new chips and industry relationships to announce at MWC 2013.

The Atom processor remains a central focus for Intel, unveiling its first dual-core chip for smartphones, the Clover Trail+.  Energy efficiency is a key improvement for Clover Trail +, as Intel’s chips have proven power-hungry in the past.  And while Intel’s latest Atom chip comes with worthy specs, including an Intel graphics media accelerator engine with a graphics core supporting up to 533MHz with boost mode, rivals like ARM and Qualcomm have already moved on to the quad-core chipset (though Intel would say more cores doesn’t make a better chip).  Intel’s also behind on LTE support, an important feature in today’s data-hungry mobile world.

Intel certainly has big plans for catching up in the smartphone space, but the chipmaker is exploring several avenues in the mobile market at large.  The diversified approach should help Intel survive the transition to a post-PC era, where mobility and Services are key.  Here are some of the opportunities Intel has on its plate:

The right developer tech boosts a Services-driven ecosystem


According to the latest report from Berg Insight, the number of mobile apps downloaded across all major platforms will reach 108 billion in 2017, and the revenue market from applications, including both direct revenues (when you pay for an app) and in-app ad revenues, will reach $8.4 billion with a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 17% between 2012 and 2017.  That’s a hefty market to tap as more businesses rely on apps to interface with consumers.  The significant growth here has enabled a new economy around the developer community, which will need an array of services to support the creation, management and distribution of mobile apps.

To this end, Intel recently acquired the rights to HTML5 development tools company appMobi, and transferred its staff personnel, now engaged in the development of HTML5 tools. The acquisition will focus on the business of providing cloud services for mobile applications. The new purchase will strengthen the company’s presence in the market of mobile platforms and development tools.

appMobi has more than 130,000 active developers working on mobile and desktop applications using HTML5 as of Oct 2012. This large bunch will help Intel enhance its presence in web tools by establishing new frameworks for traditional web applications, games and mobile applications. Intel could use these to enhance its own mobile App Catalog as well.

The main objective of appMobi as a cloud platform is towards the development of browser applications that provide features such as analysis of user behavior, touch-to-buy, or certain authentications. Its JavaScript jqMobi framework is a development code that is compatible to develop Android apps, iOS or BlackBerry OS apps. Intel wants to incorporate the acquired technologies into its own development environment. It will help Intel pursue developers to create cross-platform apps that will work in any environment on any device and (most importantly) any computer chip. Intel is also hoping that many smartphone manufacturers will therefore rely on Intel’s technology at the software level.

Looking further beyond PCs


To be fair, Intel has not completely missed the mobile boat. The company is heading towards a device-agnostic future with enough hardware and processor options, along with the right software offerings in an effort to move beyond the PC market to data centers, mobile and cloud computing sectors.

Image: Intel

The 4th generation Intel Core processor family and new line of low-power processors will usher in an era of unprecedented innovation in mobile computing. The new chip will bring faster, thinner, lighter, cooler, more secure systems with built-in graphics to mainstream, an area where ARM chip is currently leading.

The company has demonstrated interesting insight given its roadmap for its range of processors, targeting areas like automobile infotainment, home automation systems, handheld devices and tablets.  While 64% of Intel’s revenues are still derived from the PC market, the number is dropping and the chipmaker, known for its incessant R&D, is preparing for a new future.

McAfee, the acquired Intel Company, has become profitable in the last quarter due to the software and services and contributed over $1 billion in revenue. Its data center group is inching closer to PC client group that clocked 22% year-on-year growth.

Hyperscale computing and software-led infrastructure are two areas that Intel has also explored seriously. The company has invested $20 million cash in Big Switch Networks, an early player in software-defined networking (SDN).

Intel is also hoping to find growth in the auto industry by getting carmakers to use its technology. Partnerships with Toyota and General Motors can help Intel speed up development of these technologies. Intel’s Connected Car Fund will invest in next-generation in-car technology, advanced driver assistance technology with speech and gesture recognition. The company has also invested heavily in WiMAX, betting that it would become the standard for mobile phones operating on 4G. But unfortunately, LTE is set as the new 4G standard by telecom industries – — leaving Intel’s investment in this case out in the cold.

The microprocessor leader is also entering into Internet TV market, where microservers seem to be a key part of that strategy.  According to IHS research, microservers is one of the fastest growing areas within the mobile and cloud computing markets, and the market is expected to grow to over 1 million by 2016.  Such explosive growth brings new opportunities for Intel’s vast experience in chip technology, anxious to meet the more specific needs in the mobile and cloud computing marketplace.

Intel’s new processor – fourth-generation Haswell processor – is the answer to the micro server market, with its longer life and faster speeds. In the long run, Intel is targeting the $200-$500 mobile market segment because that’s where a lot of the growth is in emerging market like China, India and Brazil. The acquisition of Infineon Technologies’ wireless chip business in 2011 and investing in new mobile players in introducing Intel powered mobile devices is an indication in that direction.