Intel CEO Paul Otellini took to the stage in Las Vegas last night, not for a comedy or Cirque du Soleil performance, but to deliver a keynote speech here at CES.

While earlier in the week Intel touted their backing of the Ultrabook category which will likely dominate the PC market this year, Otellini used this keynote to announce a rather significant move for the company – into Mobile.

You have to admit, with Smartphones and Tablets selling like hot-cakes the one company missing from the whole boom has been Intel. ARM based processors have been the key player here, with Apple too launching its own processors for the iPad and iPhone devices. So, a pretty big market gap which Intel have to jump into if they are to keep in touch with the pace of market change.

Otellini highlighted the Intel® Atom™ processor Z2460 platform, which was specifically designed for smartphones and tablets, with a focus according to Intel on performance and energy efficiency.

This move into Mobile is not a surprise, with former Palm execs Mike Bell and Dave Whalen joining Intel signifying a very clear intention from the company however CES 2012 is the first public display of an Intel designed Mobile phone running the Intel Atom processor.

Discussing the announcement, Mike Bell made it clear the reason Intel built a physical phone to demonstrate the technology was to ensure people could see this was a serious move for the company, rather than just showing power-point slides of performance.

Intel announced two partnerships to kick things off – Motorola, which will launch an Intel based phone late in 2012, and Lenovo who aim to have an device built for the Chinese market in the first half of 2012.

Mike Bell referred to ‘other’ mobile chipsets as “inferior architecture” while speaking candidly about the performance of his own device. When pressed about the use of Dual and Quad core processors in other devices, Bell was quick to point out that the Intel single core processor with ‘hyper-threading’ gives better performance than many of those double and quad core processors – pointing to the fine print of any performance claims from his competitors.

This is clearly a big sticking point for Bell who seems quite passionate about the real world ‘in-phone’ performance of the Intel product.

Time will tell how this move works for Intel. The problem as I see it is at the consumer level. We the people are easily swayed by terms like ‘dual core’ or ‘quad core’ and that in itself while not really understood by the average consumer, is still a marketing tool used to sell mobile phones.

Bell himself describes the use of some of these cores as ‘marketecture’ – rather than it being a powerful chip architecture, it is actually a chip built for the marketing team to use to sell more phones.

Problem for Intel is, that’s what it’s doing. No doubt the Intel brand and “Intel Inside” will help sell some phones, however what will be needed is a compelling case as to why someone should ‘look’ for the ‘Intel inside’ logo as they do now on PC’s.

Bell used the example that it was for Intel to provide the ability to do things, but it was for the manufacturers to take advantage of it and market their phones capabilities as a result of the Intel Chip.

A great example of that would be photography. If a phone using an Intel Chip is able to burst 10 photos in the time other phones take just one, perhaps smart software might enable ‘blink identification’ within photos so a series of photos is always taken and the phone chooses the best one.

HDR is another ‘buzz word’ of the photography world – heck, even the iPhone has a HDR option. HDR requires you to take mulitple photos at different levels of exposure. Again, while other phones may take 3 levels one up and one down from the original, perhaps with Intel Atom processors that range could be wider and the HDR result even better.

Only time will tell. Good to see Intel in the space, but I wouldn’t take the brand for granted if I were them, there is a need at the retail level to justify one vs another at ever feature level of Smartphones and Tablets today – this won’t be any different just because it has ‘Intel inside’


Trevor Long travelled to CES as a guest of Intel