Why Intel Doesn’t Make Smartphone Processors?

For majority of laptops and PCs, the preferred processor is usually Intel. The phrase ‘Intel Inside’ has gone on to demonstrate the company’s dominance in PC and laptop industry. It’s true that AMD has made significant gains over the years, but Intel continues to command a higher market share.

However, when we look at smartphone market, Intel is completely missing from the picture. Here, the common names include the likes of Snapdragon, Exynos, Kirin, Helio, etc. So why Intel doesn’t have presence in smartphone industry? Well, there are several reasons for it. Some of them are described below.

Failure to foresee the mobile revolution – To some extent, Intel’s failure in smartphone market is due to its inability to predict the mobile revolution. Intel was primarily focused on developing processors for PCs. It failed to see how the mobile revolution will change the rules of the game. Due to this, Intel did not find it necessary to allocate the necessary funds and resources that would be used for research and development.

Insistence on legacy technology – At some point, Intel did produce smartphone processors named ‘Atom’. However, since these were compatible with its x86 processors and can be used for tablets and netbooks as well, they were not good enough for smartphones. Intel suffered on the financial side also, as it had pumped billions of dollars for developing mobile processors. However, it did not yield desired results. Moreover, Intel started out late in smartphone business. By this time, rivals had already taken significant lead in terms of both technology and market penetration.

Completely different technology – In technical terms, processors used on PCs are quite different from the ones used on smartphones. So, it was not possible for Intel to just open another unit to start manufacturing smartphone processors. The core architecture of processors used in PCs is such that they use a lot of power. If such chips are used on a mobile phone, it will drain the battery within minutes. Developing a smartphone processor meant going back to the design table. This is where Intel was late.

Rise of ARM architecture – Intel was trying to tweak its existing processors to suit the needs of smartphones. However, the strategy did not work. In the meantime, ARM (Advanced RISC Machines) architecture gained prominence as it perfectly suited the needs of smartphones. Processors based on ARM architecture were low-cost, required minimal power and had reduced heat levels. Furthermore, the designers of ARM had made the license available to manufacturers. They were allowed to tweak the architecture as per their specific needs and preferences. In comparison, Intel manufactures its chips at its own facilities and does not license the architecture to third parties. Due to these reasons, smartphone chip manufacturers started preferring the ARM architecture.

The key lesson to be learned here is that one can never be complacent or overconfident in the tech industry. We also have the example of Microsoft that has failed in mobile OS industry. Companies need to innovate continuously and be cognizant of disruptions that can occur in future.

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