Please enjoy a guest blog post by Phillip Davis, A writer for Intel’s internal news site, Circuit News.
A staggering 140,000 people were gadget-gazing in Las Vegas this week at the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show—and at times it felt as if they were all trying to squeeze into Intel’s immensely popular blue pavilion anchoring the middle of the convention center.
That’s because Intel was making some real news, with announcements of new smartphones, the Ultrabook™ and alliances with Lenovo and Motorola Mobility.
What did all the hundreds of reporters, photographers and bloggers attending the show think of our biggest news, the announcement of Intel’s first smartphone system, code named “Medfield”?
The UK’s PC Pro said, “Intel has finally managed to score in the mobile market.”
The Financial Times wrote, “This is the first system-on-a-chip from Intel to be competitive with chipsets from established mobile phone chipmakers – it marks a dramatic reduction in size and power requirements.”
The Wall Street Journal devoted a video report on Intel and CES. The report’s intro said “Intel won a badly needed boost to its credibility in the smartphone market as Motorola and Lenovo announced plans to introduce phones that use the company’s chips.”
Though it will be a few months before the first Lenovo and Motorola smartphones come to market, Extreme Tech wrote that Intel’s Medfield phone has the potential to “dismantle” the dominance currently enjoyed by ARM chips in the smartphone field.
And it predicted Intel’s chips will only get better with coming process shrinks: “ARM can innovate until it’s blue in the face, but at the end of the day it will be impossible to compete with Intel’s far superior manufacturing process.”
Fortune turned to Intel’s Mike Bell for his take on Intel’s manufacturing advantage: “I think we have a fundamental technology advantage that others don’t have,” Bell, co-general manager of the Mobile and Communications Group, said. “We have really smart people and a history of doing this over and over again. The process technology is gravy. It’s fantastic gravy.”
Independent tests show ‘Medfield’ besting competition
Respected computer blog AnandTech got some hands-on time with Intel’s prototype Atom™ 2460 phone (the aforementioned “Medfield”) and immediately subjected it to some tough benchmark tests.
To cut right to the good news, AnandTech’s Anand Lal Shimpi wrote, “Medfield is fast. I firmly believe had it been released a year ago, it would have dominated the Android smartphone market from the very start. Even today it appears to deliver better CPU performance than anything on the market, despite only having a single core.”
In terms of power consumption, in standby, the Intel reference phone sipped only 18mW, compared to 19mW for a Samsung Galaxy and 38mW for an iPhone.
“The performance and power data both look great for Medfield,” Shimpi wrote. “You would think that this data, assuming there’s nothing fundamentally wrong, would be enough to convince a handset maker to actually give Intel a shot. You’d be right.”
In a similar vein, Ars Technica wrote, “With its combination of power, performance, and packaging, Medfield is a genuinely viable smartphone platform.”
“Atom has always had the performance it needed to compete in this space, and now it also has the low power and high integration to tackle Cortex A9 head on,” the site said.
Skeptics, competitors air doubts
Given that it has taken years for Intel to get into the smartphone market, it was understandable that a number of writers leavened their enthusiasm with a dose of caution.
MarketWatch columnist Therese Poletti called the announcement “a dose of good news for investors.” But she quoted Bernstein Research analyst Stacy Rason, who noted that Lenovo has less than 4% of the smartphone market.
“Thus, Intel is unlikely to see upside [in share price] anytime soon,” Rasgon wrote in a research note.
Others sought ARM’s take on the news. Unsurprisingly, ARM executives professed not to be worried by our new smartphone chip.
ARM CEO Warren East told Reuters, “It’s inevitable Intel will get a few smartphone design wins—we regard Intel as a serious competitor. Are they ever going to be the leaders in power efficiency? No, of course not. But they have a lot more to offer.”
‘The year of the Ultrabook’
Smartphones aren’t the only news Intel is making at CES. As CNN’s Headline News noted, “Ultrabooks are all the rage at CES.”
And borrowing a phrase from a certain fruit-themed computer maker, Fox News.com called the Ultrabooks on display at CES “insanely great.”
“Laptop manufacturers whose underperforming products have been washed out of the market by a flood of tablets in recent years are finally fighting back,” the site said.
Nomura Securities analyst Romit Shah wrote in a note to his clients, “We walked out of Intel’s press event yesterday wanting to own an Ultrabook.”
PC World said, “2012 is shaping up to be the year of the Ultrabook.”
When is an Ultrabook not an Ultrabook?
Though the Ultrabook category is not yet a year old, the competition is already intense enough that manufacturers like Samsung are going beyond Intel’s Ultrabook specs, as blogged by Circuit News’ Jeremy Schultz from the CES show floor.
Samsung wasn’t the only one though. In a surprise announcement, major US TV vendor Vizio announced that it was jumping into the PC business, and showed a line of very well-thought-out all-in-one PCs, notebooks and Ultrabooks featuring Intel processors.
Just “Don’t call them ‘Ultrabooks,’” said The Verge. “Vizio says they’re thin-and-lights that meet or exceed Intel’s ultrabook specs, but the company isn’t using the name
In another meeting room off the main hall, Lenovo was showing sites such as AnandTech a soon-to-be-released Ultrabook named the IdeaPad Yoga 13. The Yoga 13 shows some of the interesting innovations that are coming in the Ultrabook space: it has a touch screen, and a hinge that allows the display to swing around 360 degrees, which converts the Yoga 13 to a tablet.
AnandTech said, “This is really the Ultrabook that we want to be testing and recommending right now.” The Yoga 13 should be available by the end of the year.
Meanwhile, in yet another Vegas ballroom HP was generating buzz with its first consumer Ultrabook, the HP Envy 14 Spectre.
“The newly announced HP Spectre is the most glass-covered laptop we’ve ever seen,” CNet said. The Spectre’s back lid is actually made from Corning Gorilla Glass—giving it a luxuriously super-glossy appearance.
“While having glass all over the display, lid, palm rest, and touch pad might seem to invite danger, HP boasts that using Gorilla Glass will make the laptop more scratch-resistant,” Cnet said.
Page Murray, an HP vice president of marketing, told Bloomberg that the design was a bid to reach the “savvy fashionista” market.
The Los Angeles Times noted it weighs in at a not-so-svelte 4 pounds: “But who cares what it weighs? It’s a laptop made out of glass! I’m not even sure what the advantage really would be for that, but I feel cooler just to have typed out that last sentence.”