Going mobile

Much of the hype at the Consumer Electronics Show revolved around 3D TV and tablets, but two firms, Intel and Qualcomm, appropriately used the stage in Las Vegas to launch new chips that herald a shift in focus for the firms.

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Going mobile Samir Al-Schamma, Intel’s general manager for the Middle East.
By  George Bevir Published  February 1, 2010 Communications Middle East & Africa Logo

Over the past 18 months a total of 40 million netbooks have been sold, according to Intel CEO Paul Otellini.

The form factor of a miniaturised laptop with a reduced size keyboard, limited functionality and typically a 9” screen was pioneered by Asus and soon mimicked by pretty much every computer manufacturer. One of the advances in technology that made netbooks possible was Intel’s Atom processor, a low voltage microprocessor that went on sale in 2008.

Intel’s general manager for the Middle East, Samir Al-Schamma, says that in the GCC netbooks accounted for about 20% of all laptop sales in the last quarter of 2009.  Al-Schamma won’t reveal Intel’s share of that figure, but says the bulk were equipped with Atom processors.

Intel does not expect the penetration of netbooks in the PC market to grow much beyond the 23%-35% mark, which is in line with industry and analysts expectations that having provided a fillip to floundering PC sales, interest in netbooks will plateau as variations such as smartbooks and slates become more widely available.

At the heart of all of these devices lies the ability to connect, and during his keynote at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas, Otellini outlined his vision of the future, which centred around a belief that even more devices at work and home will be communicating with each other and hooked up to the internet.

Otellini said Intel expects WiFi to move into an increasing array of devices, including “cameras, TVs and appliances”, and to prove his point he demonstrated ‘WiDi’, or Intel Wireless Display. The technology can stream high definition video from a PC to a TV, and works on computers with Intel Core i7, i5, and i3 processors and a separate adapter box, priced at about US$100 and available in the US from January.

The theme of connectivity ran through the family of chips that Intel unveiled in Vegas; in terms of wireless products and WiMAX; three new Intel Centrino wireless adapters featured advanced 802.11n multi-stream capabilities and dual-band support for WiFi, which Intel claims offers up to 8 times greater speed while consuming minimal power.

All of the adapters support Intel My WiFi Technology, which allows users to turn their laptop into a virtual hotspot and directly connect wireless devices to their laptop.

Return to mobile

While on stage in Las Vegas, Otellini took the opportunity to announce Intel’s push into mobile phones when he demonstrated a mobile device by LG that is based on Intel’s ‘Moorestown’ chip, a successor to the Atom that integrates an Intel Atom processor core, with apparently lower power consumption than rival ARM chips.

Its move out of its comfort zone into mobile computing is one of many switches being performed in the technology and communications sector, with firms moving into sometimes unchartered territory as technologies converge and the form factor of devices change.

Mobile phone handset manufacturers are trying to take a slice of revenue that used to head directly to the operators’ bank accounts through the launch of application stores and music download services.

Having dipped its toe in the water with Android and the Nexus device, Google jumped into the mobile sector with both feet. And earlier in the year Nokia move into an area traditionally occupied by PC manufacturers with the launch of its smartbook, the Booklet 3G.

Mobile chipset maker Qualcomm also used CES as an opportunity to move into Intel’s stronghold, when it teamed up with HP to showcase the first netbook to be powered by a beefed up version of its Snapdragon processor.

But while handsets and laptops appear to be converging, Al-Schamma says it is unlikely that one device will take the place of a range of connected devices.

“Not because of the performance,” he says. “You will find a device that can do everything in terms of communications, processing power and is a reasonable size. Where the challenge is, is the form factor.

 “At one stage, people were saying phones would replace everything. And another camp said PCs will do everything. But you won’t hold a PC to your ear, and you aren’t going to write lengthy emails on a phone, let’s face it.”

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