The departure today of an Intel executive who led the chipmaker's unsuccessful push into smartphones and tablets underscores the huge challenges the company faces in these markets.
The Intel executive who led Intel's so-far-unsuccessful push into smartphones and tablets quit as that business comes under unrelenting competitive pressure from companies like Apple, Qualcomm, and Nvidia.
Anand Chandrasekher, who had been senior vice president and general manager of Intel's Ultra Mobility Group, announced today that he will be leaving Intel to "pursue other interests." Effective immediately, Mike Bell and Dave Whalen, both vice presidents of Intel Architecture Group (IAG), will co-manage the group, which is responsible for building Atom chips that go into smartphones and tablets.
This follows the departure last year of Eric Kim, who headed another team--Intel's Digital Home Group--that targeted the Atom processor for consumer products such as TVs.
"Intel remains committed to this business," said David Perlmutter, executive vice president and IAG general manager, in a statement, referring to smartphones. "We continue to make the investments needed to ensure that the best user experience on smartphones and handhelds runs on Intel architecture, and to ship a phone this year," he said.
Chandrasekher had become somewhat infamous for making regular appearances at Intel conferences over the last few years and invariably waving a prototype smartphone or handheld device for the cameras, then promising that an Intel-based smartphone was on the way. But none ever materialized.
"The industry has gone right past them," said Ashok Kumar, an analyst at Rodman & Renshaw. "They're just another player [in the smartphone and tablet markets]. There's no first among equals," Kumar said, referring to the ARM processor business, which is dominated by an oligarchy of other big chip companies, including Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Samsung, Apple, Marvell, and Nvidia.
Another analyst says that Intel's first chip designed specifically for tablets and smartphones, "Moorestown," was a failure. "Moorestown was a complete flop," said Linley Gwennap, principal analyst at The Linley Group, a chip consulting firm. "Intel is still struggling to get traction in tablets and particularly smartphones. Atom is in a few tablets that run Windows, but Windows tablets are not very popular, except in a few vertical applications," he said.
And what about Intel's next-generation Atom for smartphones? "It remains to be seen whether Medfield (the next Atom for smartphones) will do any better, since Intel has not disclosed any details on that product yet. In addition to finding customers, the new [Ultra Mobility Group] management has a big task in figuring out how to integrate Atom with the ex-Infineon baseband products," Gwennap said, referring to Infineon's wireless business, which Intel purchased this year.
"Legacy (Windows) compatibility doesn't matter in the post-PC era. All the blockbuster products that Apple has had are post-PC. Therein lies the conundrum for Microsoft and Intel," added Kumar.