Intel is entering the Android market, for better or worse

There are definite pros and cons to the chip maker moving into Android phones and tablets.

Lots of manufacturers make Android phones, and they make them using processors from ARM. Intel wants to change that, and they figure the best way to sell manufacturers, and phone buyers, is to make their own Android phones (and, to a lesser extent, tablets).

Intel has long been an also-ran in the mobile device field, as their mobile-focused Atom chips have drawn too much power for portable gadgets smaller than a netbook. But, without disclosing too many particulars, Intel is ready to show off its more efficient chips in a reference phone and tablet--to Technology Review, at first, and likely in devices made by other firms at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in January.

Intel's reference design for Android phones

Let’s break out our armchairs and do some analyzin’, bullet point style:

  • Nobody thinks competition in the mobile space is an inherently bad thing--gadgets can always be cheaper, faster, and more friendly. But my eyebrows cock a little at the idea of adding yet another variable, at a very deep level, to the Android ecosystem. Google is poised to start pushing out a unified version of Android, Ice Cream Sandwich (4.0), and, as has always been the case, it’s an uphill battle to build momentum for upgrades among five major manufacturers (LG, Samsung, HTC, Motorola, Sony/Ericsson), their customized skins (HTC Sense, Samsung’s TouchWiz, Motorola’s MotoBlur, among others), and the four major U.S. cellular carriers (Verizon, AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile). Now double those factors by providing two different architectures for which to build Android, and the oft-referenced fragmentation problem doesn’t look to be improving.

  • On the other hand, it’s interesting, and promising, to see Intel as a force for pushing entire market sectors forward. Their Ultrabook efforts, while yet to create a notebook with the same kind of buzz as the MacBook Air, has at least shoved many manufacturers into valuing design, portability, and battery life over proprietary add-ons. A move to force Android phone makers to meet standards of battery life, design, and screen clarity would not be such bad news.

  • Then again, Technology Review’s report (toward the end of the post) that Intel’s Medfield chips are built “specifically to speed up Android apps and Web browsing” is quite the teaser. You’d like to hear that everything, of course, was just lag-free and smooth, like many iPhone and iPad enthusiasts claim is a major differentiation between iOS and Android. But given the camera improvements in Ice Cream Sandwich, and Intel’s specialized chips, Android could possibly run smoother in most places on Intel.

All that is filed under the “Until We Get Our Hands On It” section. What do you think about the possibility of another chip maker getting a shot at powering Android?

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