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Intel's struggles in digital TV

Posted: 31 Oct 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:digital TV? Tizen? mobile OS? wireless baseband?

I've got a theory why Intel Corp. is struggling to get a foothold in TVs and cellphones?it's a lack of humility or, put less kindly, hubris.

While I was taking a few days off last week, Intel quietly announced it was getting out of the digital TV business. It had produced two generations of SoCs ?one for Yahoo software and another for the high-profile GoogleTV initiative.

In 2004, the PC giant abandoned a separate digital TV effort that tried to leverage microdisplays, an emerging technology that never quite emerged.

Only with GoogleTV did Intel have solid OEM partners ?in this case Sony and Logitech. In this case broadcasters put up barriers to the notion of Google eating what's left of their advertising lunch.

Web-enabled TVs are coming in various forms. But it doesn't look like they will be using x86 cores anytime soon.

The problem, in part, is Intel seems to take a bulldozer approach to new market development. I give the company credit for its willingness to drive ambitious initiatives aggressively, but too often it does that without key stakeholders such as OEMs, or in the GoogleTV case, broadcasters.

The same has been true in smartphones. Years ago Intel developed one of its first cellphone SoCs, merging x86 cores and flash on a chip, but it never got market traction. Instead 3D chip stacks with separate flash and application processors took off from traditional suppliers.

In a second effort, Intel has been driving Atom into the smartphone market for about two years. It signed up Nokia as a development partner, but incoming Nokia CEO Stephen Elop nixed the deal when he shifted support to Microsoft, perceived as a more vibrant ecosystem provider.

Intel is still beating the drum for its 32nm Medfield SoC based on Atom, claiming next year it will have multiple smartphone design wins. But it also cancelled its MeeGo flavor of mobile Linux originally geared for those phones.

One source tells me Intel warned some of Taiwan's big ODMs as recently as three months ago they were not putting enough effort into MeeGo. A handful of small software companies were working with the OS and now feel they have wasted more than a year's time. Intel is encouraging them to shift their focus to Tizen, a replacement mobile Linux OS coming next year.

I give Intel credit for quickly winding up big, bold initiatives, and having the flexibility and guts to trash them when they don't pan out. For a big company, Intel moves quickly.

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