Intel splits on Atom after the mobile relevance of x86 whacked by Apple's Ax

Posted:
in iPad edited April 2016
Intel is ending production of its mobile Atom processors as the reality sets in of a mobile world where virtually all the profits are inhaled by devices sold by Apple and powered by the iPhone-maker's own custom Ax series Application Processors.


Atom has Intel thinking outside the mobile box after failing to gain any traction


Intel initially intended for Atom to scale down its legacy Wintel desktop x86 processor architecture for use in efficient mobile devices such as phones and tablets, but that strategy has been effectively abandoned as the chipmaker now moves to refocus its sights on modems, data center, Internet of Things and memory chips.

The decision to cancel Atom as a mobile strategy boils down to profitability.

Despite having about as many employees globally as Apple, Intel's revenues were a quarter of Apple's last year, and the Mac-maker reported profits 4.7 times higher on sales of finished devices.

The majority of Apple's products are now powered by Ax chips the company designs internally. Other smartphone and tablet makers earn little to nothing, and virtually all have adopted the ARM architecture Apple initially co-developed back in the early 1990s for use in its Newton MessagePad tablet, offering little opportunity for Intel's rival Atom architecture to make any inroads.

How Intel lost the mobile business to Apple's Ax chips



The move kills Intel's once enthusiastic plans to muscle its way back into smartphone devices after first fumbling the ball in 2006, when its former chief executive Paul Otellini overlooked the prospect of supplying chips for Apple's original iPhone as not worth doing.

Four years later, Intel sought to win back Apple's attention with Silverthone, a new x86 chip it expected the company to use in its initial iPad. Intel subsequently rebranded the mobile x86 chip as Atom.




However, Apple passed on Intel's Atom and instead acquired the expertise to develop its own custom ARM Application Processor, known as the A4, which it used in the first iPad, then in iPhone 4 and Apple TV.

Intel's Atom jilted by Microsoft, failed by Android



The following year, at the beginning of 2011, Microsoft also snubbed Intel by showing off what would later be named Windows RT, a project to get Windows working on ARM chips--including the Qualcomm Snapdragon, TI OMAP and Nvidia Tegra chip families--in order to keep low end Windows PCs, netbooks, tablets and hybrid 2-in-1 devices competitive with Apple's increasingly popular iPad.

Intel's Atom chips were clearly unable to match the A4 iPad's battery life, but Windows RT, in the form of Microsoft's own Tegra-powered Surface RT hybrid, also failed spectacularly.

Jilted by Microsoft, Intel subsequently jumped to support Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb also in competition with iPad, offering makers fat subsidies for building Android tablets using Intel Atom chips.

By the end of 2011, Google and Intel had also announced plans, as optimistically reported by Reuters, to "work together to optimize future versions of Google's Android mobile software for Intel's Atom processors, hoping to speed the development and time-to-market of future Intel-powered smartphones."

However, Android did nothing to help Intel gain any traction in smartphones. And despite spending billions to subsidize Atom-powered Android tablets, those never made any money either.




In 2014, Intel shifted its plans to instead license its x86 Atom, 3G and LTE baseband IP to Chinese fabless chip designers including Rockchip, Spreadtrum and RDA Microelectronics, intending to follow a licensing model similar to ARM or Qualcomm. Those plans were branded as "SoFIA".

As AppleInsider outlined a year ago, the prospect for Intel to turn Atom around and make x86 relevant in on mobile devices again was essentially zero.

End of the road for fantasies of a Microsoft Surface Phone running Windows apps



As noted yesterday by PC World, the cancelation of phone-scaled Atom chips by Intel also "casts a dark shadow over the rumored Surface Phone," a vaporware product that imagined packing a desktop PC into a smartphone, which could then be plugged into a monitor and keyboard using Microsoft's "Continuum" strategy to run legacy x86 software.



Fan fiction portraying a desktop PC Surface Phone. Source: Nadir Aslam, via PC World


Intel will kill off its "Broxton" Atom and SoFIA architectures, leaving behind only a low end chip using the Atom brand aimed at basic desktop PCs, effectively pulling out of the business of powering iPad-class tablets or smartphones.

That leaves Microsoft in the position of selling Windows 10 Mobile only on ARM, and Windows 10 desktops and hybrids (like the Surface Pro 4) only running desktop x86 processors. Without the ability to emulate x86 code on ARM, that leaves Windows focused entirely upon "UWP," the Universal Windows Platform introduced for Windows 10 intended to stretch generic software across a variety of device types and form factors, from touchscreen phones to a mouse driven desktop.

That's a strategy that hasn't worked well for Android, where apps generally target phones and don't offer specialized optimization for tablets or other form factors.

Microsoft's UWP hasn't exactly seen enthusiastic adoption either, with legacy software still bound to mouse driven desktop PCs running x86, and mobile devices running Windows 10 so commercially irrelevant that developers have little reason to bother targeting them.

It is, however, good news for Apple, considering that the company now has a very large platform for iOS, with clear optimization for iPhone and iPad hardware. That has resulted in enthusiastic Enterprise adoption. In its last earnings call, Apple noted that "the latest data published by IDC indicates that iPad accounts for 72% of the U.S. commercial tablet market, comprising business, government, and education."
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 102
    SnRaSnRa Posts: 65member
    Intel has core m, which they've even been testing in smartphones. A low to no profit Atom chip was not needed.
  • Reply 2 of 102
    SnRa said:
    Intel has core m, which they've even been testing in smartphones. A low to no profit Atom chip was not needed.
    Proof? 

    Core M also costs $281-$393 per chip. That's not smartphone material, even if you assume a volume discount. 
    lolliverirelandpscooter63mdriftmeyercalirob53ration almagman1979tmaysteveh
  • Reply 3 of 102
    SnRaSnRa Posts: 65member
    SnRa said:
    Intel has core m, which they've even been testing in smartphones. A low to no profit Atom chip was not needed.
    Proof? 

    Core M also costs $281-$393 per chip. That's not smartphone material, even if you assume a volume discount. 
    http://www.engadget.com/2015/09/02/intel-s-core-m-processors-are-being-tested-in-phones/

    I wouldn't see core m being a mainstream product for phones, but high end devices like that "rumored" Surface phone could still be possible.

    Also, don't be fooled by the list price of that chip. All said and done, no one is paying that much.
    edited April 2016
  • Reply 4 of 102
    koopkoop Posts: 337member
    DED's been on a rampage since Apple's quarterly. Getting a little dizzy from all the spin and pom poms.
    SnRamacky the mackyrufworkapple v. samsungirelandsprockketssingularity
  • Reply 5 of 102
    bobschlobbobschlob Posts: 1,074member
    koop said:
    DED's been on a rampage since Apple's quarterly. Getting a little dizzy from all the spin and pom poms.
    Wow. Great response. What else you got?
    lolliverpscooter63calitdknoxericthehalfbeejustadcomicsmagman1979cornchiptmaysteveh
  • Reply 6 of 102
    beltsbearbeltsbear Posts: 314member
    Ok. Great. I have purchased very few Intel products outside of Macs. The Atom was the one I purchased most often, to make small low power servers. I guess I will be switching to ARM servers instead.
    justadcomicscornchiptmayabedoss
  • Reply 7 of 102
    SnRaSnRa Posts: 65member
    beltsbear said:
    Ok. Great. I have purchased very few Intel products outside of Macs. The Atom was the one I purchased most often, to make small low power servers. I guess I will be switching to ARM servers instead.
    Apollo Lake with Goldmont cores is still coming (replacing Braswell), so that shouldn't be a problem. Only SoFIA and Broxton (smartphones/tablets) have been cancelled.
    edited April 2016 netmage
  • Reply 8 of 102
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    Were those the chips that were being used in various tablets that had fans in them?

    What a joke. Talk about a low class tablet.

    Imagine having a phone or a tablet and there is a damn fan inside of it?  :#

    Do people who buy those have plumbing and running water at home? 
    macky the mackypscooter63calicornchipjony0
  • Reply 9 of 102
    kpluckkpluck Posts: 500member
    So you are comparing component manufactures to OEM phone builders as if they are in the same markets? Do you understand how stupid this article reads?

    -kpluck
    SnRaapple v. samsungsingularity
  • Reply 10 of 102
    SnRaSnRa Posts: 65member
    apple ][ said:
    Were those the chips that were being used in various tablets that had fans in them?

    What a joke. Talk about a low class tablet.

    Imagine having a phone or a tablet and there is a damn fan inside of it? 

    Do people who buy those have plumbing and running water at home? 
    Atom tablets do not have fans. For that matter, most core m devices don't even have fans.
    edited April 2016 sprockketsrevenant
  • Reply 11 of 102
    Best thing since the first splitting of the atom in 1932.
    kevin kee
  • Reply 12 of 102
    apple ][apple ][ Posts: 8,360member
    SnRa said:
    apple ][ said:
    Were those the chips that were being used in various tablets that had fans in them?

    What a joke. Talk about a low class tablet.

    Imagine having a phone or a tablet and there is a damn fan inside of it? 

    Do people who buy those have plumbing and running water at home? 
    Atom tablets do not have fans. For that matter, most core m devices don't even have fans.
    What did the Surface tablets use, because I remember some of them having fans inside.

    That is a total nonstarter for any tablet.
    pscooter63netmagebadmonk
  • Reply 13 of 102
    irelandireland Posts: 16,904member
    With headings like that who needs an article?
    edited April 2016 revenantcornchip
  • Reply 14 of 102
    mdriftmeyermdriftmeyer Posts: 7,094member
    Keller's hand on the A series will soon show its hand on the Zen series. Intel will learn very few CPU architects the world over have had such success as him.
    tmay
  • Reply 15 of 102
    If anything Intel lost to Qualcomm as did TI instruments and Nvidia. Citing Apple as the reason is foolish. They had no competition with apple in this market. They knew when they where developing this chip it was a .0001% chance it would end up in an iOS device. The devices they wanted it in was LG, HTC and all the growing Chinese OEMs. 
    jonlSnRarevenantcnocbuinetmagesprockketsafrodri
  • Reply 16 of 102
    dysamoriadysamoria Posts: 1,549member
    "Fan fiction" ha ha ha  :D
    ration alcnocbuishahhet2pscooter63
  • Reply 17 of 102
    jonljonl Posts: 210member
    If anything Intel lost to Qualcomm as did TI instruments and Nvidia. Citing Apple as the reason is foolish. They had no competition with apple in this market. They knew when they where developing this chip it was a .0001% chance it would end up in an iOS device. The devices they wanted it in was LG, HTC and all the growing Chinese OEMs. 
    I know. After reading the first line or two and rolling my eyes, I searched for "Qualcomm", and your post was the first hit. It's nowhere to be found in the article. lol
    SnRarevenantcnocbuiapple v. samsungafrodri
  • Reply 18 of 102
    SnRaSnRa Posts: 65member
    apple ][ said:
    SnRa said:
    Atom tablets do not have fans. For that matter, most core m devices don't even have fans.
    What did the Surface tablets use, because I remember some of them having fans inside.

    That is a total nonstarter for any tablet.
    The Surface 3 is the only Surface tablet to use an atom chip and it was fanless.

    The Surface Pro 4 is fanless for the Core m3 version. Only the Core i5 and Core i7 models have a discrete fan, but it only turns on when the device is at high load.
    revenantcnocbuicrowleynetmageafrodri
  • Reply 19 of 102
    In 2006, Intel was closing down it's Centino WI-FI chip production here in Colorado Springs. The rumor was that they were going to convert the computer chip manufacturing to chips for these up and coming mobile devices. But, as the article says, "chief executive Paul Otellini overlooked the prospect of supplying chips for Apple's original iPhone as not worth doing." They already had a chip manufacturing plant, complete with clean rooms and trained staff available, and it wasn't worth doing. They sold the building a couple years later and is not used by the computer industry at all now.  With decision making like that, it's a wonder the company even exists today.
    ai46ration aljustadcomicsRayz2016williamlondoncornchip
  • Reply 20 of 102
    macplusplusmacplusplus Posts: 1,193member
    SnRa said:
    beltsbear said:
    Ok. Great. I have purchased very few Intel products outside of Macs. The Atom was the one I purchased most often, to make small low power servers. I guess I will be switching to ARM servers instead.
    Apollo Lake with Goldmont cores is still coming (replacing Braswell), so that shouldn't be a problem. Only SoFIA and Broxton (smartphones/tablets) have been cancelled.
    Thank you for the tips. Now can you comment please on a much discussed issue such as the lack of Thunderbolt 3 in the new Retina Macbook? Does Core M support TB 3, or if not what is Intel's solution?
    edited April 2016
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