Intel has done well in PCs and tablets, but success in smartphones has eluded the chip maker for years. Cracking the challenging market is the next big task for Intel CEO Brian Krzanich , who is chasing an aggressive strategy to get its mobile processors into more handsets.
At Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this week, Intel rebranded its Atom line with an easier-to-remember naming scheme for various models in the product family, to increase market visibility of the processors. The company also introduced the new Atom X3 chip, which will initially go into smartphones, and Atom X5 and X7 chips, which will be in tablets.
A few handsets with the Atom X3 chip, code-named Sofia, were shown at Mobile World Congress. Sofia is the result of a speedier chip development strategy formulated by Krzanich to make Intel more competitive in smartphones. Krzanich sat down with the IDG News Service to talk about smartphones, wearables, services and the company's plans in new markets. Below is an edited version of the transcript.
IDG: Intel last year beat its goal of shipping 40 million tablet chips. How do you approach the smartphone market?
Krzanich: First we have to get the right products for the smartphone space. It's a tighter form factor, you've got to be just right. We've been working really hard on our modems with our [XMM] 7260, which was our first LTE modem; we announced 7360, which is the next-generation modem. You saw us announce our Sofia product line, which is really the first fully integrated SOC [system on a chip] with modem, all of the connectivity, all in one piece of silicon.
IDG: Are you setting expectations for smartphones, like you did with tablets?
Krzanich: When I think about cell phones, I think about two paths to market. One is going to be with our partners, especially some our of key OEM partners like Asus and Lenovo, and then our silicon partners with Rockchip and Spreadtrum. The other path is -- you can see us doing it already with the tablet space -- where we bring in some of the innovation we originally had for PCs and bring it down the stack. You saw RealSense [depth-sensing camera]. RealSense was originally created for the PC and 2-in-1 devices; we brought it down to tablets. You see us bringing McAfee down from the PC and it has made its way to wearables and cellphones as well. I want to enter this market smartly. It's not one you can force your way in.
IDG: How often will mobile chips be upgraded?
Krzanich: Right now there's a series of products. There's the Sofia line -- we're trying to come out with multiple products per year. At least one to two products per year within Intel on the Sofia line. Then you go to Cherry Trail, it will be like every other year.
IDG: After early issues, are you comfortable with the 14-nanometer manufacturing process?
Krzanich: Silicon-wise, the yields are strong: I'd call it a nicely maturing technology that we're able to launch any product that we need to on. Cherry Trail is just coming out, and there's a series of SKUs that will come out over the next couple of quarters. I'm pretty happy with Cherry Trail and there's a series of more products, including Skylake in the back half of the year, which is a "tock" on 14 nanometers which really brings a new level of performance.
IDG: There were some announcements around end-to-end services, cloud and security related to mobile at MWC. Is this an indication that Intel mobile devices are being closely linked to Intel hardware in data centers?
Krzanich: We are trying to do Wi-Fi gateways and things like that, trying to make it so you can recognize an Intel device faster. We have that silicon pathway, we're connecting silicon to silicon. We always make it so that we're agnostic to some extent, that we can connect to anybody and we can connect back to anybody's device.
On services, security is a good example. We think there are connections between security and the silicon that we can make around secure boot, understanding the CPU ID and making sure that you are who you are and where you are, and True Key and those kinds of things where we could do multifaceted identification. In those cases, there is a connection between the silicon and the service, so we want to provide that mainly to use all of the capability of all our silicon.
IDG: There's a roadmap for tablets and smartphones. Can you establish a roadmap for wearable products?
Krzanich: I think there's a difference between wearables [and] most of those other devices. I'm a firm believer that if a bunch of tech companies design and build wearables, they will have limited success. There will be a bunch of tech people wearing them and the average person is not going to be a good user. People have been in the fashion industry and have worn fashion products for years because they are very good and know what people want. We have to go through those partnerships. We've established partnerships with key players in key areas. Luxottica for eyewear, Fossil for wrists, you can go through the list.