Intel Gets Android Inside

In an effort to carve out a niche in the burgeoning mobile market, Intel has partnered with Google to optimize future versions of the latter’s Android mobile operating system for Intel’s Atom line of chips.

The announcement was made by Andy Rubin, Android head honcho and Google senior vice president, on Tuesday at the Intel Developer Forum, which runs in San Francisco through Thursday.

Intel CEO Paul Otellini, whose dream has been to push into the mobile arena, said the first Intel-powered Android smartphone will enter the market in early 2012.

Otellini also demonstrated an Intel-powered tablet at IDF on Tuesday.

Although Intel focused on smartphones during its announcement, the team-up with Google will also “support our tablet business,” Intel spokesperson Claudine Mangano told TechNewsWorld.

The tablet demoed at IDF is a “form factor reference design” based on Intel’s 32nm Medfield Atom chip, Mangano said. It was running Android Honeycomb, she added.

“From a market dynamics perspective, Google is a must-have partner today,” Charles King, principal analyst at Pund-IT, told TechNewsWorld.

Focusing first on smartphones is a strategic move because “from a commercial perspective, Android-based phones, which as a group are outselling Apple’s iPhone handily, are a better short-term bet,” King added.

Google did not respond to requests for comment by press time.

What The Intel-Google Pairing Entails

The agreement calls for Google to optimize future versions of Android for Intel’s family of low-power Atom processors.

This is aimed at speeding up the time to market of Intel-based smartphones running Android, Intel stated.

The deal will let mobile device OEMs and wireless operators use Intel processors and tap into the scale of the x86 developer platform and further drive the adoption of Android, Intel said.

Although the chip giant’s focus at this time is on Android, its agreement with Google is not exclusive, Intel’s Mangano said.

Android and MeeGo, the love child Intel spawned with phonemaker Nokia, which later abandoned the platform, are among the tablet OSes the chip giant will support, Mangano elaborated.

“In May of this year, Fujitsu and NTT demoed Symbian smartphones running on Atom processors, so a Medfield-based Symbian phone may be in the works,” Pund-IT’s King remarked.

InDroid’s Possible Impact on the Mobile Market

Granted, Intel has an army of x86 developers out there. But Android isn’t exactly hurting for app devs, and it’s growing at a phenomenal rate. Back in June, Google’s Rubin tweeted that 500,000 Android devices were being activated daily.

So what exactly does Intel bring to the table? More opportunities.

If handset vendors respond favorably to the Intel-Google pairing, “it could create additional new channels for Android and place additional pressure on Apple,” King stated.

The Mobile School of Hard Knocks

Intel’s plans to introduce mobile devices based on its processors have been repeatedly delayed.

Anand Chandrasekher, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Ultra Mobility Group, was well-known for appearing at Intel conferences with a prototype mobile device and promising that an Intel-powered smartphone was on the way. However, no such devices materialized.

Chandrasekher reportedly quit his job in March.

Intel’s plans for the mobile space took a body blow earlier this year when Nokia moved away from Meego, which the two had jointly developed, to focus on a partnership with Microsoft and Windows Phone.

However, Intel’s likely to continue doggedly pursuing the mobile market, a high priority for CEO Otellini. During the company’s third-quarter earnings call in October, Otellini announced that it would use all the assets at its disposal to win the tablet market, and it would also pursue deals with Android and Microsoft.

That could entail partnerships with other OEM manufacturers.

“I expect Intel would be willing to listen to any device vendor or manufacturer interested in Atom,” Pund-IT’s King said.

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