In an interview with All Things Digital, Intel CEO Paul Otellini commented on the potential threat for Intel's business from ARM. The usual marketing pitches set aside, we have recently seen Intel rather modest and careful with its claims targeting ARM, in which the company typically states that it has the upper hand in manufacturing and performance, while the company concedes that ARM has some knowledge how to design very low power processors. However, in this specific interview, Otellini sounded different.
In a response to a question about Intel's rivals, including previous rivals such as Transmeta and Via, Otellini said:
"I happen to be around long enough to remember those guys," he said. "People come and go, and we’ve never had an exclusive, if you will. And, overall, the best chip has won."
Granted, All Things Digital did not reveal how the question was asked, but some people may have a different view on that. Back when Transmeta was a hot topic, the startup chipmaker put a spotlight on processors that consumed power more efficiently. While Transmeta had its own issues and never attained the credibility it needed to succeed, Intel's marketing machine contributed to Transmeta's decline.
While Intel surely did not have the most power-efficient processors at the time, I especially remember a podium discussion at the 2001 Microprocessor Forum in San Jose, which included Intel's principal engineer Bob Jackson, AMD's CTO Fred Weber, Transmeta's CEO David Ditzel and Via-Centaur president Glenn Henry, in which Henry cynically commented on Jackson's explanations of Intel's power efficient processors that he would not have to talk about Via's technology since Intel will always claim to have the best processor. Of course, he referred to Intel's arrogance about its technology and the frustration of other chip makers that could not hold against Intel's marketing power.
Other than Otellini's remark that "people come and go", this time Intel is not directly competing with one company, ARM, but with an array of vendors that include heavy weights such as Samsung, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Marvell, and Nvidia. It's unlikely that we speak of those guys as "come and go". There is much more marketing power Intel will have to match - and there will be new markets that will be fought over as Intel is moving down market and ARM makers are moving upmarket.
In this scenario we expect potshots to be fired now and then, but Otellini's blank statement was surprising nevertheless. We all want the best technology to succeed, but we also know that a good dose of competition will promote the creation of ever better technologies.