Now that the IDF 2013 euphoria is fading I would like to play devil’s advocate and make a case for why Intel is still not ready to compete in the mobile market. It was very clear from the keynotes that Intel is a chip company, always has been, always will be, and that will not get them the market share they need to be relevant in mobile electronics, just my devil’s advocate opinion of course.
The first argument is the Bay Trail tablet offerings which are mediocre at best. The WinSuperSite has a nice Fall Tablet Preview with pictures and everything you need to know to decide NOT to buy one. Notice there are no Bay Trail smartphones, just tablets big and small. How many people or corporations buy the same brand tablet and phone? How many people or corporations will buy a new tablet every two years like they do smartphones? I still have my iPad2, and, like my laptop, I have no plans to replace it until I absolutely have to (3-5 years). My bet is that there will be a fire sale on Bay Trail devices next year so wait until then if you really want one.
The second argument is the Apple 64 bit SoC announcement last week which totally eclipsed the Intel Bay Trail hype, absolutely. Why is 64 bit a big deal? The additional performance is what everybody is talking about but the real reason for 64 bits is software portability. Corporate America can now move PC based applications to Apple tablets/phones which will further accelerate the decline of Intel’s PC revenue stream. The other thing to note is that Apple is moving away from buying chips, instead they create their own custom SoCs based on a licensed ARM architecture. This allows Apple to optimize the SoC for iOS and deliver the optimum customer experience. Qualcomm and Samsung also create custom SoCs and, between the three companies, they own the mobile market. So who is Intel going to sell chips to? Certainly not the sub $50 phone makers in emerging markets. Microsoft and the legacy PC manufacturers is all that is left?
The third argument is: Do you really care what chips are inside your phone? Thanks to Intel marketing it is clearly marked that my laptop is powered by an Intel i7. For tablets and smartphones that is not the case nor will it ever be. The only reason why I know my iPhone 5 has a 32nm dual core SoC is because I work with the foundries, which is why I also know that the iPhone5s A7 SoC is a 28nm LP quad core SoC manufactured by Samsung. For those of you who think it is 28nm or 20nm silicon from TSMC you didn’t read my “TSMC Apple Rumors Debunked”. The iProduct 6 will have TSMC 20nm silicon and the iProduct 6s will be both Samsung and TSMC 14nm, my prediction.
Fourth is Intel leadership. I met the new Intel CEO Brian Krzanich (briefly) after his keynote on Tuesday. The keynote itself was good. Not too polished, sometimes they look like something out of Las Vegas. Brian is definitely an engineer and even added a Q&A session afterwards which was new. The answers to the questions however confirmed that Intel is still Intel. Will Intel deliver synthesizable cores? No. Will Intel license their IP? No. Will Intel allow their IP to be manufactured by anyone else? No. Will Intel start with the customer experience and work backwards to the technology? Absolutely not. Intel thinks they will dominate mobile electronics like they did the PC with old school benchmarking. Unfortunately, Samsung, ARM, Apple, Qualcom, Broadcom, Mediatek, Nvidia, TSMC, and the rest of the fabless semiconductor ecosystem will not allow that to happen, no way, no how.
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