Intel Spinning Atom Processor Into Big 'Little' Market - InformationWeek

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8/21/2008
06:34 PM
Alexander Wolfe
Alexander Wolfe
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Intel Spinning Atom Processor Into Big 'Little' Market

I've always been highly skeptical of Intel's attempt to carve out a new market niche for Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). The big question for me: What are these things? They're too big to be smartphones but too small to live like full-function laptops. However, after yesterday's big launch (re-re-launch, if you ask me) of Intel's Atom processor, I'm becoming convinced that MIDs may have a future.

I've always been highly skeptical of Intel's attempt to carve out a new market niche for Mobile Internet Devices (MIDs). The big question for me: What are these things? They're too big to be smartphones but too small to live like full-function laptops. However, after yesterday's big launch (re-re-launch, if you ask me) of Intel's Atom processor, I'm becoming convinced that MIDs may have a future.Intel talked up Atom at its Intel Developer Conference (IDF) in San Francisco on Tuesday. The downsized processor was formally announced back in March, and it's been talked about for quite some time before that, at IDFs in Asian and other venues. (See my old post, "Intel Atom Mobile Internet Device Previewed.")

What I gleaned from this week's IDF is that Intel has apparently broadened its strategy surrounding Atom. Maybe a better way of phrasing it is, Intel has finally added the key marketing and messaging pieces to what heretofore was mainly a technical play.

See, before Tuesday, whenever I heard about Atom, it was in the context of MIDs and tiny Netbooks. (The latter I liken to little laptops without steroids. Sure, the idea of these devices was and is kind of cool. But I was mystified at how Intel thought it could create a volume category from scratch for a device which wasn't all that clearly differentiated from smartphones (at the low end) and laptops (at the higher end).

Perhaps Intel saw that Atom would fall on the market like a processor in the forest (bad metaphor, I know), because what they did at IDF was announce a rich ecosystem and partner universe which is designed to push Atom front and center before consumers in a variety of segments.

As Anand Chandrasekher, Intel's senior VP of its Ultra Mobility Group, put it in his IDF speech: "[Atom] goes into ultra mobility, into Mobile Internet Devices. It goes into netbooks and nettops, which is our low-cost PC product line. It goes into consumer electronics devices. It also goes into the embedded Internet."

Cool stuff, but it makes one wonder whether Atom is no longer some kind of niche device and more like a pretty capable mobile processor, which need not be relegated to lightweight, non-full-function (aka MID) products.

Maybe, more than anything else, it's simply a great implementation of a low-power-dissipation mobile processor.

The final thing which takes the sheen off Atom as a light-light-lightweight device is the fact the hottest system built around the chip is Fujitsu's new Lifebook. For sale in the Asia/Pacific market, this product comes with a price tag northward of $1,300. That looks and smells like a full-fledged laptop replacement to me.

OK, here are those slides:



The new Atom is aimed at downsized Mobile Internet Devices and netbooks.(Click picture to enlarge.)





Windows, Linux, and a wealth of apps are intended to give Atom a jump start. (Click picture to enlarge.)





The categories attacked by Atom fit between smartphones and full-fledged laptops.(Click picture to enlarge.)





Fujitsu's Lifebook, launched in the Asian market, is perhaps the glitziest Atom offering.(Click picture to enlarge.)

See also "Intel's Atom Processor Won't Solve UMPC Confusion."

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