Intel takes aim at smartphone market

By Pat PIlcher

Intel has finally announced its intention to join smartphone game in earnest.

CEO Paul Otellini made the much anticipated announcement during his keynote speech at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.

It also released a reference specification Atom-powered smartphones, and alliances with Lenovo and Mororola Mobility. Both will launch Intel-powered Android smartphones in the US and China this year.

China will get first bite though, with a China Unicom deal already struck to market a Lenovo handset - a canny move that will cash in on the fast-growing smartphone market that's already exceeding 100 million users.

Lenovo vice president Jui Jun made a short cameo to announce the rather tasty Lenovo K800 Intel phone. Packaged in an angular and unmistakably Lenovo-designed chassis, the K800 boasts a vibrant 4.5" screen, built in wireless streaming and 8MP camera.

Otellini showcased the Intel smartphone reference prototype, which was running Android 2.3 operating system. It had an 8MP camera on board, but can take a 16MP image sensor) and was able to shoot up to 10 frames in just 10 seconds.

Otellini also demonstrated how the reference platform was able to play crisp and vivid 1080p HD video smoothly with no glitches, which looked great when the phone's integrated HDMI output was connected to a high-def TV.

It's powered by an Intel Atom CPU - largely similar to that used in most netbooks - which Otellini described as eextremely energy efficient, delivering up to eight hours' talk time and two weeks on standby.

Whilst this mightn't sound earth-shatteringly exciting, it will be a welcome change for many given the meagre battery life on the current crop of smartphones. To drive the point home, Otellini demonstrated a time lapsed power run down test that pitted the Intel's reference smartphone against an unnamed Android device

Otellini also talked up the new smartphone platform's performance showing benchmark comparisons for browsing, graphics energy consumption and Javascript performance. The Atom phone outperformed five other allegedly leading, but unidentified, smartphones in the demonstration.

The reference prototype is 10mm thin and sports an integrated security suite from McAfee (acquired by Intel last year) allowing the phone to be located, locked, wiped and even remotely backed up if lost.

Next up was a guest appearance by Sanjay Jahd, the CEO of Motorola who talked up the company's lengthy history in the mobile space and Intel's long heritage in the silicon manufacturing business.

Jahd believes this makes for a compelling strategic alliance around the Intel smartphone platform that will see the two companies entering into a multi-year product development partnership. The first Intel/Motorola smartphones are set to hit the US in the second half of the year.

There is absolutely no doubt that Intel is late to the mobile party, but the move is likely to have significant implications for other smartphone makers and non-Android ecosystems given Intel's sheer scale and R&D muscle.

Tablets & Windows 8

Otellini also showcased Intel's new reference tablet design prototype which was powered by Windows 8. He noted that existing Windows applications should "just work" under the next generation operating system.

Windows 8 will also theoretically 'just work' on Intel's new fast-booting, lightweight ultrabooks, of which more than a dozen models are already shipping from the likes of Acer, Asus, LG, Samsung, HP and Lenovo.

Dell vice chairman Jeff Clark took the opportunity to announce its new XPS13 ultrabook presented in a stunning combination of alloy and carbon fibre, and weighing less than 1.5kg.

The XPS13's screen features edge-to-edge gorilla glass and achieves the Tardis-like feat of cramming a 13" screen into a space normally reserved for a much smaller 11" screens.

Time constraints meant Clark was unable to delve too deeply into the XPS13's spec, he did say that it will launch in the US this Februrary, packing either an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 CPU.

Convertible Ulrrabooks

Next up Otellini showcased a convertible reference ultrabook design with a slide-able touch screen that can quickly and easily convert it into a tablet. The ultrabook was powered by Intel's next generation Ivy Bridge CPU which makes use of a 22nm manufacturing process meaning the device is thin and light, and generates far less heat without sacrificing battery life.

Performance-wise, the Ivy Bridge ultrabook proved to be no slouch and was able to run Call of Duty with moderately high detail settings using Intel's integrated graphics with no dropped frames or stuttering.

Intel also demonstrated its prototype smartphone being used as a tiltable game controller while paired to the ultrabook. Last but by no means least, Thunderbolt connectivity was used to transfer a full-length HD movie to the ultrabook in just 20seconds - quite impressive when you consider it would take 15 to 20 minutes over USB 2.0.

Having already created a significant splash with the new ultrabook category, Intel's convertible announcements was very timely given the sheer amount of hype building in the tablet space.

Where other manufacturers have struggled to compete against the iPad, the question remains whether Intel's partnerships and its sheer scale could see success where others so far have failed.

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