SAN FRANCISCO--Intel's a big company, with lots of money and smart people. It will need both to take over two separate industries.
The company's official search for the next big thing is settling quite definitively on mobile computers. But this is actually two big things: not only does Intel want to create an entire new category of handheld computers called Mobile Internet Devices, it wants to set up a whole new network to service those devices.
Intel executives Dadi Perlmutter and Anand Chandrasekher laid out the company's mobile strategy Wednesday here at the Intel Developer Forum during a pair of morning speeches. For the past several years, Intel's mobile strategy has centered around notebooks, but it's eyeing more than just PCs these days.
Intel firmed up plans to ship Silverthorne, a new processor with lots of integrated features, next year. Chandrasekher showed off prototype devices built on Silverthorne that look an awful lot like the UMPCs that didn't exactly fly off the shelves: larger than a smart phone, dependent on a stylus, and many with a fixed keyboard. He also discussed a newer low-power concept called Moorestown that will consume 10 times less power than Menlow, the platform that will house Silverthorne. Silverthorne itself consumes 10 times less power than the original Banias Pentium M chip, Chandrasekher said.
Intel is lining its Silverthorne chips up against the mobile industry's ARM-based processors in anticipation of the next silicon battleground. Having tried and failed to get its chips inside mobile phones, Intel's now trying to drum up demand for MIDs as a smart phone alternative to getting the Internet in your pocket, as Chandrasekher put it. He must have bigger pockets than I do, because none of the MIDs shown onstage at IDF would fit comfortably in my pocket.
The company will get a little closer to that goal with Moorestown. Chandrasekher didn't say much about that chip, but showed off a concept device that bore a striking resemblance to an iPhone that had been stretched lengthwise. Just a coincidence, I'm sure.
But whatever Intel's partners build with its mobile chips, they'll have to somehow connect to the Internet. That's where WiMax comes in. Intel has been talking up WiMax for several years as an alternative to cellular networks and to the expense of wiring the world with high-speed cable. It's finally getting ready to start testing the waters with its mainstream products.
Next year, Intel will refresh its notebook technology with a product called Montevina. That will come with a Penryn processor, a new chipset, and an integrated Wi-Fi/WiMax radio that will come as an option as part of the Centrino brand.
It will be interesting to see how many people opt for the WiMax radio, or even whether they know they have WiMax service available. Later today I'll get a chance to check out the devices themselves, and ask more questions about Intel's strategy for MIDs and WiMax. Stay tuned.