Intel's attempt to conquer the mobile phone chip market took a mighty step forward today when the chip maker announced a partnership with leading smart phone OS maker Symbian and leading smart phone manufacturer Nokia to co-operate on the development of 3G handsets.
The deal will see the trio create 3G reference platforms powered by Intel's ARM-based XScale chip family running Symbian's OS and Nokia's Series 60 user interface.
Intel's approach neatly mirror's Symbian's own. Both want their respective hardware and software platforms to become de facto standards, and with the momentum building behind the shift to 3G, now is a good time to make it easy for handset vendors to break into the market, primarily by offering a ready-made handset platform.
Perfect: the vendors are saved millions in R&D expenses, and Symbian and Intel are guaranteed a customer base. If it's big enough, the gravitational pull will warp the paths of other vendors toward the de facto standard.
Certainly, Intel is some way behind rival ARM-based chip maker Texas Instruments in the 2G/2.5G Symbian smart phone market. TI today claimed more than 85 per cent of the 5m-odd Symbian phones shipped in the first half of 2004 were based on its OMAP platform.
Nokia is perhaps less keen on establishing Series 60 as a smart phone standard, since it has to compete with the very companies it's licensing the UI to. But with its big market share lead and the prospect of all those licence fees, it no doubt feels it's in a winning position no matter what.
Enter the horizontal integration of the smart phone market. Just as the personal computer market was once a collection of companies developing or sourcing their own components to build unique solutions, but now, thanks to Wintel, they're all the same, so too 3G will mark just such a shift in the smart phone market, if Intel and co. have anything to do about it.
Hence the statement from Sam Arditi, Intel's Cellular and Handheld Group general manager, that "the next generation of handsets for 3G networks will require a platform approach".
Having learned from its relationship with Microsoft, Intel is less concerned with the overall composition of the platform, so long as its chips sit at the 3G reference's heart. Today's announcement is pro-Symbian, but Intel's just as happy being considered the chip maker of choice for Palm OS- and Windows Mobile-based smart phones. It can afford now to be OS agnostic. ®
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