Version 2.2 of Google's Android
) has generated a great deal of discussion over the past few weeks, both for its anticipated new features and the fact that it, unlike the iPhone's iOS 4, offers full support for both HTML5 and Flash. It seems consumers and developers aren't the only people interested in Google's new Android flavor; Intel has announced it's preparing a fully x86-compatible version of Froyo that it intends to ship in the next few months.
"Our expectation is that (native x86 Android) will be based on the Froyo release and will be available this summer to developers” Renee James, Intel’s
senior veep for software and services, told APC. In addition, "all of the (x86) code will be fed back into the open branch that will be created for x86."
Intel's decision to port Android to x86 is the latest indication of just how serious the CPU giant is about entering the handheld/mobile market. An x86 flavor of Froyo makes it easier for Intel to woo handset manufacturers that might consider an x86 device but lack the time or finances to customize and support a separate OS. In addition, a native port smooths the upgrade path for a consumer who unknowingly moves from an ARM-based device to an x86-based handheld. From the developer side of the equation, an x86 Android port allows Intel to create an ecosystem of devices from smartphones to netbooks. This offers developers a common code base to work with and a suite of devices to target, in an environment where the exact capabilities and functions of each device are a known commodity.
We expect Intel to put a great deal of emphasis on these characteristics now that Moorestown has launched, and to hit them even harder once it debuts a 32nm flavor of Atom. Some two years after its unveiling, Atom has settled itself into a fairly well-defined niche of slate devices and netbooks. The Pine Trail update improved overall power consumption, but boosted neither performance nor battery life to a degree that led manufacturers to go bananas with new, smaller form factors. Intel's next-best chance at recapturing some of this enthusiasm will arrive synonymously with the new processor and whatever additional improvements Intel has baked into it.
One final point of interest is that the much-vaunted 'Wintel' partnership that drove virtually every other OS and CPU architecture out of business is nowhere to be seen. Microsoft and Intel appear to be doing nothing so much as studiously ignoring each other—Intel made no mention of Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 OS when it announced Moorestown back in early May and Microsoft has said nothing to indicate that Windows Phone 7 will run on Atom or any other x86-derived CPU.
It's hard to predict exactly what this means, but it seems to indicate that at least one of the two giants is dubious that the other will succeed. There's reason for doubt on both sides: Intel is fighting to enter a market dominated by a common architecture backed by a wide range of companies, while Microsoft is struggling to recoup market share after years of decline. Windows Phone 7 has earned a great deal of praise, but has yet to demonstrate its ability to turn word-of-mouth into sales.
It may not be possible for the two companies to align their interests in the mobile industry. Intel wants to see mobile devices running on Atom, regardless of what OS they happen to use, while Microsoft is interested in Windows Phone 7 and doesn't much care about the processor. With MS targeting ARM as the Windows Phone 7
platform of choice while Intel reaches out to Android, there's a chance the one-time allies could end up facing each other at opposite ends of the table.