SANTA CLARA, Calif.--Intel's push into the smartphone market is facing growing skepticism from some analysts who attended the company's investor meeting yesterday. The chipmaker, meanwhile, tried to dispel doubts by disclosing for the first time that its "Medfield" smartphone chip will get a major update.
Financial analysts had lots of questions for Intel yesterday about how it will offer a distinct advantage over smartphone processors from rival chipmakers such as Texas Instruments, Nvidia, and Qualcomm, which make silicon based on the dominant ARM architecture.
In post-presentation Q&A sessions and informal meetings with executives, the essence of the questions was the same: how will Intel's processors stand out?
Behind the doubts is a history of lousy execution. Intel has been promising smartphones with its chips since 2009, when an LG smartphone failed to materialize. More than two years later, no smartphones exist yet with Intel chips.
While optimistic about Intel's upcoming "Medfield" processor for smartphones, Mike Feibus, principal analyst at TechKnowledge Strategies, said there is concern. "It's a little disappointing...because I thought they would be farther along than they are now," he said.
"Part of it may be that Intel has swung too far to the other side of the pendulum. In 2010, the company overpromised and took it on the chin. Now they may be a little overcautious as a result," he said.
And that, indeed, seems to the case. Intel executives speaking informally after the regular session said this time they intend to underpromise and overdeliver.
Intel's Medfield is due in smartphones in the "first part" of next year, CEO Paul Otellini said yesterday. Industry sources familiar with Intel's plans said that at least one of the smartphone customers is "a very large OEM [original equipment manufacturer]."
And Intel disclosed yesterday for the first time that Medfield will get an update, which caught more than a few analysts by surprise. In other words, Intel will debut Medfield in a smartphone early next year, as expected, but then do a significant update of the chip--which had not been expected. Medfield is based on Intel's current 32-nanometer technology.
"Medfield doesn't stay static. Inside the 32-nanometer window we have a significant refresh. Much better feature set that I don't want to talk about today but it improves the platform. Followed by 22 nanometer," said Otellini responding to an analyst's question.