Skip to main content

Intel Makes Mobile Play With Android Reference Design At IDF 2014

Intel has had a rough time trying to enter the mobile market over the past few years. One of the main reasons for that was that OEMs already had the know-how and expertise to build their devices using ARM chips, and there would've been a significant cost in switching to a very different instruction set such as x86.

Intel has been working to make it easier for OEMs to port their software to its x86 chips by paying for some of the porting costs, but that hasn't been enough to give Intel a big boost in the smartphone or tablet markets. Yesterday at IDF 2014, Intel unveiled a new program to make it easier for OEMs and ODMs to adopt Intel chips when building Android devices by giving them a reference design (a tablet) that always gets updates within two weeks of Google launching a new version of Android.

"We will provide a single binary image for Android. Within this single binary, the ODMs/OEMs can choose from a pre-qualified set of components or a complete BOM specification, and build a system. This increases the speed with which ODMs/OEMs are able to create and ship new products while reducing their engineering costs," said Doug Fisher, VP and General Manager, Software and Services Group.

Intel says that it's been working very closely with Google to create this reference design. Apparently, Google gave Intel the list of components that is necessary for both current and future versions of Android (as per Google's vision of what Android should be doing in the future), and then Intel put AOSP (Android Open Source Project) on top of that hardware.

Intel is promising to update the reference hardware for two years, which is hopefully a feature that's going to be adopted by more chip makers, too, including Qualcomm (the market leader), but also Samsung, Mediatek, Nvidia and others. In fact, chip makers should probably support their chips for three years or longer if OEMs are to support the devices for at least two years, since a chip's life can be longer than a year. If some devices get a certain chip a year into its life, then those devices won't be supported much longer, even if the OEM itself wants to support them for two years.

As a small player in the mobile market, Intel has to push harder to impress OEMs and make them switch to its chips after they've already developed strong relationships with Qualcomm or other chip makers. However, that's ultimately going to convince other chip makers to work harder, too, in order to maintain those relationships. As customers, we're only going to benefit from this constant push and pull.

Follow us @tomshardware, on Facebook and on Google+.

  • amk-aka-Phantom
    significant cost in switching to a very different instruction set such as x86

    Oh really? So recompiling Android for x86 is "significant cost"? Because that's all it takes. Apps run on a Java VM, they don't care. BS, through and through. Asus already has Android tablets running on x86 Atoms and the only problematic apps there are a few games - probably using that feature which allows to use some C code in Android applications for performance-critical parts.

    Intel's having difficulties because market is flooded with cheap Mediatek junk and uneducated buyers shout "OMG QUAD CORE" when they see a MT6582M and think it's as good as Snapdragon 800 or Atom Z3770 and better than A6x (because it only has TWO cores!!!1). Of course it's difficult to enter the market in such stupid conditions. But it's Intel we're talking about. Where did PowerPC go? Where's AMD? Where will nVIDIA's low-end GPUs soon end up? Irrelevaland, that's where. Broadwell-Y, Moorefield and Cherry Trail will set things straight. It's indeed really just up to device makers. Samsung wants to push their own SoCs and Qualcomm wouldn't want to lose the market, but a LOT of manufacturers will switch if it suits them. Right now Intel chips end up in a lot of Asus tablets as well as devices by no-name Asian brands (which sell like hotcakes due to low price and high demand) but soon everyone will want an Intel chip. It's great even from a marketing point of view - uneducated customers will be familiar with the Intel brand (even my grandma knows what Intel is) and would be more inclined to buy the device with their CPU. It's just a matter of time. Big boys are here, ARM, back to your routers, Raspberries and smartwatches... until Intel decides it wants their chips in those, too.
    Reply
  • ldo
    Why doesn’t Intel mark ARM chips, instead of stubbornly trying to force x86 onto a market that doesn’t want it? Then their mobile division could actually show a profit.
    Reply
  • swordrage
    Why doesn’t Intel mark ARM chips, instead of stubbornly trying to force x86 onto a market that doesn’t want it? Then their mobile division could actually show a profit.
    Because currently "x86 is intel". AMD doesn't stand a chance. Ii would look like a submission like "Hey guys, we can't optimize our product any more. Let's make your stuff."
    Reply
  • amk-aka-Phantom
    Why doesn’t Intel mark ARM chips, instead of stubbornly trying to force x86 onto a market that doesn’t want it? Then their mobile division could actually show a profit.

    The hell? Who says the market doesn't want it? x86 tablets with full-blown (not that RT rubbish) Windows 8 are incredible, they're perfect for both entertainment (Civilization V or Heroes of Might and Magic hot-seat? YES PLEASE) and work (would LOVE one for my sysadmin stuff), and you can run Linux on them easily as well (Surface Pro 3 boots Ubuntu without any hassle, lol). Intel is going to rid us of ARM mess where you are at the mercy of the manufacturer releasing source code for 3rd party firmwares or not and give us mobile devices that can run the operating systems we are all used to (Windows and NORMAL Linux distros). The market doesn't just want it, it BEGS for it.
    Reply
  • ldo
    Who says the market doesn’t want it? Just look at the sales figures.
    Reply