Flexibility and Business Inversions at the Intel Analyst Summit

As the incumbent chip designer for much of the electronics market, it came as a surprise to some that Intel missed out on mobile and tablet market developments and trends as much as it has in the last few years. However, the company has now turned a corner and re-invented itself as a nimble underdog player in a world dominated by Qualcomm and ARM chips. That was the message sent out loud and clear to the analyst community at Intel’s spring 2014 analyst summit.

To cope with the more fast-paced environment of mobile and tablet, something that Intel has been previously criticised on, Intel has inverted its design process. Instead of designing chips and SoCs to match technical and engineering benchmarks, the company has been commissioning many consumer-centric studies, from U&A (usage and attitude) studies to longitudinal ethnographic work to get inside the mind of the consumer, as well as designing their hardware with the end software in mind. Their economic insights team also look to be shaping this design outlook, with the intriguing comparison that the combined tablet and PC market is now what the PC market was.

As a result of this, everything is now a SoC for Intel. They are beginning to work hand-in-glove with software developers to be able to launch products straight into market as soon as the software is available to support it, coupled with focusing exclusively on 64-bit architecture for when the next generation of mobile operating systems, chiefly Android, roll over into 64-bit functionality.

Mobile software is also a big new horizon for Intel, with the company developing cross-platform app development tools to support development for native apps to all platforms from one set of source code. Already a player in the open source sector, Intel is obviously keen to promote its software prowess for any software platform.

A new flexibility is the key to Intel’s bid for success in the mobile market, as well as a reliance on brand assets of quality and reliability. It is clear that the firm is ready to be all things to all men in order to drive into new markets. They have developed what appears to be a remarkably agile product structure and, intriguingly, an ability to modularise their IP around customer requirements, adapting architectures easily to new systems and their particular needs.

For me, the only fly in this ointment was the array of shiny new tablets and hybrids lined up at the back of the hall. All very capable, but only one out of around twenty running Android. While Intel and Microsoft have a long-standing partnership that was discussed at the summit, they may still be clinging a bit too hard to this aspect of their past, despite claiming system agnosticism. Here’s to hoping they don’t miss a trick again when the OS environment changes.