Intel Could Succeed in the Android Market with HDRC

Posted on 31 March 2012 by

We recently saw a great example of HDRC which came in the form of a Galaxy Nexus hooked up to a keyboard, trackpad, and full sized monitor:

The Galaxy Nexus is ARM based of course, but an x86 based device with hardware from Intel might be able to push the performance envelope much further than ARM is capable of currently. And even if ARM managed to match Intel’s processing capabilities on the high-end, we can’t forget that Intel’s x86 has an inherent advantage — the ability to boot major desktop operating systems, like Windows and Mac OSX, that we’re so familiar with. With an Intel-based device, you could run Android in your pocket all day as a phone, then come home and put your phone in a dock and boot into Windows 7 for productivity. ARM-based products simply can’t do this (of course this will change for Windows once Windows 8 hits, but OSX will still be x86-only)

Then there are features exclusive to Intel’s platform which could capitalize on the possibilities of HDRC. For example, Intel offers WiDi (wireless-display) which provides hardware-level wireless display mirroring. With WiDi you could mirror Android or Windows on your big screen at home without worrying about any wires. Combine that with a wireless mouse and keyboard, and you could literally stream a desktop computing experience from your pocket to any screen in your house.

If Intel can focus on honest-to-goodness HDRC functionality, their mobile devices could stand out significantly from what we’ve seen from ARM based devices. The key will be not only the functionality, but ease-of-use. If you want the mainstream to get into HDRC, and fully recognize the advantage of Intel over ARM for mobile devices, everything better be dead simple — from booting multiple operating systems to connecting your device to a wireless display via WiDi. There’s a real possibility of this opportunity going right out the window if Intel provides the features but doesn’t make them accessible to the everyday user.

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  • Realty

    Ben, interesting read

    I think you underestimate a few things.

    1). Microsoft really is trying to bring Windows to ARM.

    2). ARM is not sitting still and their newest designs A15? may be as powerful as Intel if not more so.

    3). Ease of use is important but price will be more so. There is more to running a Windows OS than merely using a X86 chip instead of ARM. It’s the other necessary electronics that have made past Windows tablets more expensive than comparable Android tablets. If Android tablets are being sold for $250 and Windows tablets for $700, the Windows tablets will have a tough sell in the consumer market.

    4). Android is heading for the desktop market themselves which means you will not have to dual boot to get a desktop experience. One Android UI will cover both mobile and desktop computing.

    HDRC would be wonderful but you might be able to get it using just ARM processors and maybe at a lower price too.

    • James

      While ARM’s role in the market is increasing there are still issues that have to be overcome…

      1) MS won’t be providing legacy support on ARM and are insisting that there would be no way to unlock secure boot on ARM. So while they are bringing Windows to ARM, there will also be some limitations compared to the x86 implementation.

      2) Neither is Intel standing still, while the new ARM Cortex A15 are the next gen and will dominate 2012 for the low end market that Intel ATOM’s normally fill but in early 2013 Intel is going 22nm and doing the first major architectural update to the ATOM since it was first introduced.

      While right now ARM is having problems with going 28nm and those manufacturing issues could effect them till next year.

      3) The Intel ATOM market has worked with lower profit margin than pretty much the entire rest of the market for years, ARM included, and that offsets the normal cost advantage ARM has… Add Intel going 22nm when ARM will still be 32nm and 28nm could means Intel could match or at least come very close to similar pricing. While still potentially offering even better performance and a wider range of capabilities.

      Even in power efficiency, Medfield already shows Intel has made significant progress at getting nearer to ARM level power efficiency and that’s not even using their next gen technology yet.

      Mind also that Windows 8 will require the top of the line ARM offerings to run well. So pricing is likely not going to be that cheap.

      4) Android may be heading to the desktop market but it’s still a mobile OS and that means limited by design. More separates mobile OS from a desktop OS than just how they look and how the UI works.

      Also ARM is still a 32bit processor that’s only started using 64bit memory management and won’t be able to go fully 64bit for at least a couple more years, at least outside of the server market and alternate solutions like what Nvidia is working on.

      Though the growing number of hybrid design systems could mean a eventually merger between tablets and what has been the netbook market up till now.

      There have already been attempts to make systems that would switch from a ARM Tablet to a laptop when docked. However, MS seems to be developing a patent for a docking system that will allow a device to switch to a more powerful processor when docked. While Intel has access to technology to quickly switch between two OS’es.

      So these may either use a combination of ARM and x86 but seamless switching will likely be easier for a low end x86 docking to a higher end x86 for easier scaling and thus better fit the HDRC goal.

      • Realty

        James,

        You make some interesting arguments. Here are my thoughts point by point.

        Point # 1). We have been trying to discuss the difference between Windows 8 on ARM and Windows on Intel in the forums. The consensus seems to be that the differences are not positive but will only be transitory. If not, then why would anyone make a tablet with the permanently crippled Windows on Arm OS?

        Point # 2). You may be right about the chip manufacturing future. Only time will.

        Point # 3). I think you are dreaming. Dell and HP are not in the business to make computers or tablets, they are in the business to make money. I expect no charity from them to keep Windows tablets or UMPCs price competitive. I think you would have been closer to the truth if you had said, “People will gladly pay a premium for a Windows tablet or UMPC.” I question whether smaller Intel chips will mean cheaper but again time will tell.

        Point # 4). You make good points however I disagree concerning the OS UI. Ben was discussing HDRC which means usage on all form factors. The Android and Metro UIs scale up nicely from 3 inch screens to 24 inch screens. Windows Legacy UI is worthless below a 10 inch screen. (Sorry fellow UMPC lovers but I’m getting old and Legacy Excel on a 5 inch screen does not work for me anymore.) Android has 400,000 apps that can be leveraged up onto a desktop in short order. I question how long it will take the Windows Legacy Apps to be rewritten to the Metro UI? ( I think Microsoft does not see it happening in mass until 2015.) Therefore I will stick by my statement that if you want to see an HDRC device, you might see it first on ARM using Android. This is not a put down on Intel. They are a great company however they have to work with the cards they have been dealt. They may have the chips but if the OS and supporting Metro desktop software is not ready yet, there is not much they can do except try to get in on the Android craze for now. Interesting times.

        • animatio

          short replay on point4)
          not everybody does agree with james point of view. it is not the gui that’s important, its the application and thus kernel support for the control of their main components (window sizing, menus etc). in this regard win 8 is a lousy trickery by microsoft, trying to fore their whole market to change paradigms of windows from desktop to tablet. from precision to fingering, so to say by squezing the desktop into a app window (actually a sort of a virtual machine asset (same trickery they tried to do with XP apps in win7 in a clumsy virtual machine btw, by hiding the truth that there are far better ways to run almost everything – down to the old dos btw – in win7). we shall see if professinal markets will accept this attitude or not. the win XP example tells us another lecture. in fact the paradigm of protection of investment is a straight contradiction to this.

        • James

          Ok…

          1) Part of the problem is we don’t have a clear indication yet of how the final version of Windows 8 will work. So opinions are a little befuddled by what it appears right now they are doing but it’s only a preview and a lot of changes are left for them to make before final release, even if we’re already close to the semi-final beta releases in another month or two… Time will tell though…

          3) No dream, it’s a point of fact that the netbook market is the only one with significantly low profit margins. Many companies in China were making them for pennies worth of profit, which is why a lot of them went out of business.

          Also, it’s one of the reasons why Intel and MS put in so many limitations to keep the netbook market separate from the rest of the laptop market.

          Really, ARM has had a cost and power efficiency advantage for a long time but it’s only when they are finally getting close to providing similar range of performance as Intel ATOM’s that Intel is finally getting serious about the ATOM development.

          Sure, HP, Dell, etc. are going to charge what they charge but for the same reason why ARM tablets are dropping in price so will x86 based mobile devices be prices as low as they can go.

          Originally the ATOM was set on a slow 5 year product cycle that helped ensure all parts would be well vetted and thus as cheap as possible to make. Starting with the 22nm Silvermont though they are officially switching to the same 2 year cycle they put their main chip lines through, putting in new advances practically as soon as they have them available.

          However, Intel knows they need more than just a manufacturing lead to compete in the mobile market and thus the hardware at least will be as low cost as they can manage.

          They’re already doing it with Ultrabooks, basically paying companies to make them and help absorb costs of setting up productions, etc.

          So it has nothing to do with altruism, just simple competition…

          4) Android has legacy as well, older apps not optimized for tablets, etc are being left behind. The difference is just people tend to hold onto legacy apps more for Windows than they would a mobile app that can easily be replaced with a better up to date version.

          With the merger of the Android Kernel with Linux 3.3 it could mean a sharp break from the old apps with a complete re-working of the OS to something that’s more a hybrid mobile and desktop OS, much like how it took a long time to adapt when Android first introduced Honeycomb.

          Features like webtop/web-desktop customization are increasingly being developed and that’s likely how they’ll manage to keep Android relevant as people start using more and more desktop features and capabilities with their mobile devices.

          The only thing is it’ll take nearly as long for Android to make the adaptation as it will take MS.

          However, what I believe you’re missing is that while MS may be limited on ARM for a number more years, there will be much less issue on x86 systems. While as I pointed out before it’s easier for a desktop OS to run both desktop and mobile apps than it is to adapt a mobile OS to start running desktop apps.

          Though it remains to be seen whether Windows 8 will succeed or stumble and thus give Google the time it needs to make Android a viable alternative.

          Thing to keep in mind is Windows doesn’t just have legacy apps going for it but also popular and more capable desktop apps like MS Office, Adobe Photoshop, etc. Along with supporting higher range performance, like gaming laptops, etc. that ARM is still many years from getting into.

          @animatio – Of course the kernel support is important but that’s one of the points of a desktop OS over a mobile one. Even with similar base a mobile OS is designed to for efficiency even at the cost of capabilities and features. While a desktop OS is optimized to offer as many capabilities and features without as much concern for efficiency.

          While either way developers will have to learn both paradigms for developing apps but it’s arguably easier to make more capable apps and features more efficient than it is to take less capable apps and features and expand them as that usually requires a complete redesign.

          Mind up till now Android had been working with a stripped down version of a no longer supported version of the Linux Kernel. It’s only with Linux 3.3 that they re-merged the Android Kernel with Linux and that likely means they’ll be trying for their own version of a hybrid OS like MS is doing with Windows 8 and like MS they’re running their own risks as to whether it’ll be good enough or not.

          While the basic trick for either of them is to get developers to easily be able to develop scalable apps and not just alternative apps.

          Given the Android market fragmentation, it may not be as easy for them to adapt but time will tell.

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