Intel unveils the Processor for the Next Generation of Shoephones

Intel announced its new CPU targeted for mobile devices last month. A glimpse of the Intel Atom specifications:

  • Core 2 Duo compatible x86 instruction set
  • 1 and 2 core version
  • 1.6 - 1.9 GHz core frequency, 500 MHz bus clock
  • 0.5 - 1MB L2 cache
  • 3W power consumption
  • Price $40 range
This CPU just doesn't make sense. Atom is too big for mobile phones, and too small for Notebook PCs (really?). But as it happened some marketing folks created a new handy class of devices in the middle: Ultramobile PCs, or Mobile Internet Devices.

Now Intel targets this segment with its $40 part from the top of the price range. Unfortunately at the same time a myriad of low-cost $8 ARM clones is attacking from below. In favour for Intel one could say: "But ARM does not run Windows!". True, but is that really a must for UMPC?

As of today it is not clear, whether the UMPC/MID market will be x86 or ARM dominated. I can imagine it is Intel's strategy to pull it towards its camp with Atom. However what sells today is the user experience, not the underlying OS or CPU. Consumers don't really care, just look at Apple's move from PowerPC to Intel.

UMPC users will want to read email, browse the web, and do Office. You can do that very well with an ARM CPU on Windows Mobile in the battery-life friendly 100 mW range. I can't help, but the battle seems already fought.

The next move for Intel could be to lower the price for Atom. But what when traditional Notebook ODMs figure out that they do not need to source a $100 Core 2 Duo to run Windows, when Atom would do just fine? Even with its current price it is set to cannibalize Intel's margins in the notebook segment.

So what is the Atom CPU good for?

Things seem start falling into place when looking at the announcement of an Atom-powered Willcom phone by Sharp, the D4, running Windows Vista.

Maybe it lies in the nature of these West-Japan Kansai-people, but somehow Sharp product designs tend to score with a funny sense of fashion. (Like those wonderful electronic dictionaries with, erhm yes, built-in TV.)

I mean, why would you run Vista on 5 inches of screen, with a $40 CPU burning 3W from your phone battery, to read email and look at Excel spread sheets?

Seems odd enough.

So I guess after all it is this segment of niche devices the Intel Atom processor is targeted at. We are looking forward to try out the new range of Atom-powered Sharp Shoephones.

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