Does even Intel have confidence in the Mobile Internet Device?

9th Jun 2008 | 11:51

Does even Intel have confidence in the Mobile Internet Device?

In a revealing interview, Intel's Sean Maloney suggests a lacklustre approach

Often seen as the token Brit in the upper-echelons of Intel Corp, Sean Maloney is charged with directing sales of Intel’s products. As such, it's delightfully refreshing – albeit a tad disconcerting – to hear that such a big new computing category from Intel was to receive very little marketing might at such a tender age.

The MID (Mobile Internet Device) category was to be handed over to the device manufacturers to make something of. A little healthy competition maybe, or could it be that Intel is more than a little concerned and certainly quite confused as to the exact market for its Atom CPU?

PC Plus: There’s a perceived shift in marketing strategy with the release of Atom – moving further away from Intel branding as with Centrino, and more towards an ‘inside’ product enabling an industry of variations and leaving it up to the MID manufacturers to create product brands.

Sean Maloney: We’re not spending much money on it; that’s the only real difference. We’re not doing a huge branding exercise. I don’t know about the next 2-3 years but I don’t think we’ll do a huge branding exercise short term. We’ve got so many other things we’re doing brand-wise – Atom has an enormous amount of momentum…maybe we could look at it again in a year’s time. But for the moment, no plans for big branding. It’s a very new device category – there isn’t a single way you could describe it.

PCP: There are a lot of players in this market now; VIA, AMD and ARM’s big collaboration with Nvidia. They all want a slice of this market which you’ve gone on record to state is going to have massive market growth over the next few years. It seems like you’re launching into this new mobile computing sector very timidly.

SM: I don’t think so. Ultimately it will come down to which technology makes the most interesting products. If you wander around at this launch [at Computex, Taipei], loads of these guys are moving on to the second generation of products – we’ve got Atom in TVs, Atom in cars…we’ve got lots of different things coming out. And, you know, good luck to VIA and the ARM guys; I’m sure there’s a market for that.

From our point of view, it’s all moving very quickly and we’ve got a broad range of designs and very good demand [for the Atom CPUs]. Really good demand. In fact, demand is outstripping supply so we are in a ramp phase and playing catch up. At the moment it’s made at 300mm FABs – monster FABs. It’s a small die so as we ramp production, we’ll catch up. But for the next month and a half to two months, we’ll be short. We’ve got four 300mm FABs – we will meet demand; definitely!

PCP: At CES when Microsoft launched the UMPC, there didn’t seem to be a transparent collaboration with Intel. And, at CES 2008 with the launch of the MID platform, it seems the reverse has occurred. Do you think Microsoft has a large part to play in the success of the MID, or are you just going to run alongside whichever player makes the greatest impact?

SM: There are a lot of Linux designs, but Microsoft clearly is at this show making a statement that it's serious about this category [MID]. Our line is that it’s a market expansion, so what we’ve done is designed products specifically for it. We’ve got Core for the mainstream and then Atom underneath it, and I think clearly today – if you go round and have a look at the booths – there’s a lot of Microsoft stuff going on. I would expect them to be a player [in this sector].

PCP: It’s not really proprietary stuff though is it? It’s very much in the league of porting a full OS onto a small device and the device suffering for it.

SM: Yeah, granted – they do suffer for it. But on the other hand, there’s a billion people using that OS. If you go for complete simplicity and strip down versions of Linux you can reach a certain demographic, but a lot of people are going to say “Where’s my Word?” or “Where’s my Powerpoint?” or “Why won’t this game run?” and the user interface is different. You don’t have to have [Windows]; it’s not necessarily one solution for all.

PCP: Absolutely, but is it not frustrating that Microsoft is so far behind in this game and that it actually doesn’t have a good mobile operating system to partner up with Intel and break this new sector with?

SM: I wouldn’t say we’re frustrated. I think the event here shows that they’re taking it seriously – we think it’s a big category.

PCP: Do you think within the next few years, there will be a maturity in the MID market that will mean these devices become ubiquitous?

SM: We’ve been working on it for 3 years – the original Atom project was kicked off in 2005. We must have spent a year arguing about what thermal envelope we should be working to. The Netbook is a very simple category to explain – it looks like a small notebook and has a lot of the functions of the notebook. An MID is a new type of device and we’ll have to see.

Most of them look very different but as yet, you just don’t know what the magic formula is. Is it going to be a touch screen interface, or a slider, or detachable keyboard, or whatever – we’ll find out. The cell phone tends to polarise the market, but MIDs are a much more happenstance fashion kind of thing. I certainly don’t feel I’ve got the instincts to figure out what will be successful there. Whereas with Netbooks, it’s easier to figure out.

Interview conducted at Computex 2008, Taipei, by Ian Robson, Editor of PC Plus

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