Intel announced multi-year pacts with Motorola Mobility and Lenovo to develop smart phones and tablets at ‘CES 2012,’ one of the largest consumer electronics show on earth which concluded a few days back in Las Vegas. These devices are based on its 32-nm Medfield platform and will hit the market in 2012. Motorola is believed to come out with Intel-inside tablets and smart phones in the second half of 2012, while Lenovo might hit the market with its Medfield based K800 smart phones as early as the first half of 2012. The Medfield platform is based on the Atom series of processors and has a top clock frequency of 1.6 GHz with the worst case power consumption of 800-mw.
On the other hand, in November 2011, HP announced a project called Moonshot which aims to develop less power consuming ARM RISC based Servers. HP has started working with a start-up called Calxeda which is supplying the ARM RISC processors targeted towards high-end servers. HP is soon planning to collaborate with other ARM suppliers also to develop servers targeted for less computing intensive applications such as social media.
Both these developments are unique. It has always been believed that Intel is meant for processors and servers. Its X-86 architecture has been used in PCs for ages. Similarly ARM and its partners, who supply processors based on ARM based architecture, are the indisputable leaders in the handheld devices space. These devices require lesser power consumptions and ARM architecture is the most obvious fit. However, both the companies – Intel and ARM aren’t with ruling their own territories and are crossing swords to invade each other. This battle started a couple of years ago and is now in full public view. The result of the battle is not going to be an easy answer. For that, we need to analyze the relative strengths and weaknesses of each of them. Double-SWOT analysis is a proposed way to capture SWOT details of two companies in a single diagram; very often, the strength of a company is the weakness of the other and they are generally listed side by side.
The diagram shown below is a double swot analysis with SWOT details captured for Intel and ARM. The blue color refers to Intel while the orange color refers to ARM.
For all accounts, Intel is a behemoth in comparison to ARM and has all the skills, money and muscle to enter the smartphone and tablet market (as it has just announced in CES). However, the battle is not as much as about hardware than it is about software. Firms that have invested in silicon-and-software solutions for ARM processors will not be too willing to give Intel chips a chance. The same holds true for ARM. Server companies have invested in tons and tons of code written for Intel’s x86 architecture based server designs and applications and they need huge incentives to switch to ARM ( Although energy consumption seems to be one of those “huge” incentives!). So the journey for both of them is not easy – Intel into mobile devices and ARM into PC and Servers.
Let us look at other factors that make this battle interesting.
Considering all the above factors, it is difficult to put your weight behind either of these companies.
However, if I were asked to make a prediction, I would say that Intel will successfully invade the Smartphone market in the next two or three years. On the other hand, ARM is not going to stay low either. It will gain a substantial amount of market in the “Internet of things” market where even lower power consumption levels are required. Do share your views.