Today, at Intel’s IDF event, Andy Rubin announced they are making all future Android versions work on Intel’s Atom chips. I don’t like this move at all. It seems completely backwards to me. Microsoft is moving to ARM for a reason. Yes, they clearly don’t like having to move to ARM, because they are very vulnerable on ARM, having no apps that work on that chip architecture. Although, they will try to mask this, by downplaying the ARM version for now, and try to get developers to make apps (or web apps) that work on both chip architectures, and having them displayed in their new App Store, by the time they launch Windows 8 late 2012 or early 2013.
But even if they had to go through this pain, they still knew ARM is the future. And now Google does the opposite – they partner with Intel, just like they partnered with Adobe on Flash to spite Apple, even though it was the wrong thing to do. Instead of looking forward to HTML5, they looked backwards to Flash, just to have that “benefit” over Apple.
This move now seems similar. They probably want to say down the line that Android runs on “more powerful chips”, although more inefficient, more expensive, and still doubtful if Atoms will remain more powerful than high-end ARM chips. Kal-El probably has Intel’s most powerful Atom chips beat right now, and that’s for Atoms that have several times bigger TDP. I’m not expecting competitive performance from Intel’s watered down Atom chips next year, against chips like Kal-El+ and Wayne.
So when you look at it like that, it seems that Intel has nothing to offer Android from a technical point of view. It all seems political. Either it’s because Paul Otellini is on Google’s board of directors, or because Google is worried their favorite ARM chip makers will focus more on Windows 8 tablets, but it doesn’t seem like the platform was chosen on its merits.
Plus, adding a completely different chip architecture to Android’s on-going development, will probably mean significantly slower development of Android. It could mean that we’ll see fewer features in a new version, simply because they had to make sure all the ones they already have are working properly on Intel’s chips as well.
Google and Intel have partnered before with Google TV and Chromebooks, and in both occasions it has proven to be the wrong thing to do. Google TV was much more expensive than expected, and so were Chromebooks. Is it just a coincidence that in both cases they used Intel chips, the price was too high? I think not. Atom chips cost up to 5x more than a high-end ARM chip, and that translates to up to $200 at retail for the chip alone.
I really hope this fall we’ll get to see some ARM-based Google TV set top boxes and Chromebooks, priced as they should be. But these latest trends worry me, especially now that Google has a manufacturing arm in Motorola. Will they try pushing Intel into the mobile market by making an Atom based Nexus 4 next year? I find that thought pretty scary, especially since I don’t think if that came true, it would be because Atom has bested ARM in everything. It would be purely a political move, and I wouldn’t like to see Google go that way.