On one hand the Motley Fool is saying, “Intel 14nm could change the game” and on the other hand the Wall Street Cheat Sheet is saying, “Intel should shut down mobile”. SemiWiki says Intel missed mobile and should look to the future and focus on wearables and in this blog I will argue why.
Let’s look back to 2009 when Intel and TSMC signed an agreement to “collaborate on addressing technology platform, intellectual property (IP) infrastructure, and System-on-Chip (SoC) solutions.” Intel and TSMC ported the Atom Core to 40nm and offered it to more than 1,000 of TSMC’s customers:
“We believe this effort will make it easier for customers with significant design expertise to take advantage of benefits of the Intel Architecture in a manner that allows them to customize the implementation precisely to their needs,” said Paul Otellini, Intel president and CEO. “The combination of the compelling benefits of our Atom processor combined with the experience and technology of TSMC is another step in our long-term strategic relationship.”
Unfortunately this venture was a complete failure for business and technical reasons and was put on hold a year later. I was a frequent visitor to Taiwan at the time so I had a front row seat to this one. The excuse was that you can’t just flip a switch and be successful in the mobile market, meaning that Intel’s Atom effort will require patience and persevance. Fast forward to 2012:
“We are moving Intel[SUP]®[/SUP] Atom[SUP]TM[/SUP] processors to our leading-edge manufacturing technologies at twice our normal cadence. We shipped 32nm versions in 2012, and we expect to launch the 22nm generation in 2013, and 14nm versions in 2014. With each new generation of technology, we can boost performance while reducing costs and power consumption—great attributes for any market, but particularly for mobile computing.”Our Mobile Edge by Paul Otellini, Intel 2012 Annual Report.
Clearly that did not happen at 22nm with Intel literally GIVING AWAY 40 million 22nm SoCs to get “traction” in the mobile market. And Intel 14nm SoCs are delayed until 2015 which will be in lock step with the next generation of 14nm ARM based processors from QCOM, Apple, Samsung, and a handful of other fabless SoC companies.
As a stopgap measure to fill their new 14nm fabs, Intel dipped its toe into the shark infested foundry business waters. Unfortunately the only taker was Altera and their 14nm wafer demand is 3+ years out and the volume is a fraction of what is needed to keep a fab open. Intel is lucky to have only lost a toe here as they also risked exposing the secret manufacturing sauce they are famous for. Intel then shuttered fab #42 which could have been filled by foundry customers.
Let us not forget the other multi-billion dollar Intel forays away from their core competency: McAffee? Intel TV? Can someone help me complete this list in the comment section please? There are just too many for me to remember.
That brings us to where we are today: Intel still does not have a competitive SoC offering and time is running out. I strongly suggest that Intel take note of Google’s recent move out of the Smartphone business selling Motorola Mobility to Lenovo:
The smartphone market is super competitive, and to thrive it helps to be all-in when it comes to making mobile devices…..Larry Page Google CEO.
If Intel is going to go all-in I strongly suggest Intel focus on Quark and the wearable (embedded) market. Mobile has hit commodity status and is moving way too fast for a semiconductor giant to keep up (TI already gave up their mobile SoC business). Intel has had a historically strong position in the embedded market and it is time for them to get back to a business they truly believe in, absolutely.