Monday, April 14, 2008

Intel wants to own mobile phones, too

This morning I saw an interesting tidbit about Sharp developing an Intel-based cell phone for the Japanese market, to be sold by operator Japan Willcom. With 4.6 million subscribers, Japan’s 4th largest mobile carrier has less than 10% of the share of market leader DoCoMo.

The D4 phone uses Intel’s Atom CPU of the Centrino family, and will run Windows Vista (and for some reason, not XP). It has a 1024x600 screen and a 40gb hard disk. UMPC Portal describes the keyboard as “quite useable in a Psion-5 kind of way.” As such, it fits into the UMPC/MID category rather than a true cell phone, and in fact Willcom doesn’t expect to sell more than 100,000 a year.

Will this be a beachhead for Intel’s diversification into dominating (and displacing ARM) as a mobile phone platform? Intel’s prior diversification efforts have had their share of missteps. Intel’s previous attempts at the low power chips Xscale were spun off to Marvel, while its vertical integration into circuit boards also failed to displace the Taiwanese makers.

Frankly, I think Linux (not Windows Vista) is the growth opportunity Intel in the mobile space, as with its Mobile Internet Devices and its (Nokia-derived) Moblin technology. With web browsers, e-mail and IM clients available for Linux-based tablets, about the only thing an ultraportable Vista has going for it is native support for Microsoft Office documents. And if OOXML is really a standard, then that will eventually be available on Linux too.

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