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  • Writer's pictureSlashData Team

Intel buying OpenedHand: Yet another platform? Or the rise of a credible mobile alternative?

[Intel is moving fast toward MID: Mobile Internet Devices, and just bought an open-source mobile centric company: OpenedHand… blogger Thomas Menguy looks at the current Intel strategy to establish a share in the mobile market].

For years Intel has repeatedly failed to get a piece of the Mobile phone 1 billion devices a year cake.  The latest known attempt was the infamous XScale processor.. too big, too slow (albeit a high MHz count) for the smartphone application processor market, which has been trounced by the usual suspects ARM based manufacturers (TI, Samsung, …).

Yet Intel is coming back to its roots: x86. And their weapon is the ATOM processor.

At first it was designed to be a very power and simple x86 core to be used in multi core processors (with a lot of core) … but its strength was fully applicable to a nascent market: the UMPC. And from a UMPC to the MID ( like the Nokia 770/800/810 Tablets)  there’s not a lot of differences. Anyway ATOM is not competing against archrival AMD, but… with ARM manufacturers (Nokia Tablet, ipod Touch are ARM based), with an important edge: not so because of the performance (even if it is faster), but because it can run windows! It’s a full x86 chip. Ok, power consumption is still faaaaar from an ARM based system, but Moorestown will lower this barrier:

Intel has publicly committed that Moorestown will have at least 10 times less idle power consumption than the previous-generation Menlow platform.   (source)

Even if running windows may help convince some manufacturers and users, there is currently a trend for “exotic” software platforms that are well, simply doing their job. An MID is NOT a generic PC: Nokia Tablet OS, MacOS X mobile ( ipod Touch/iPhone), Linux based UMPCs, Samsung latest smartphones…upcoming Android and Limo…are all “windows” decomplexed interesting platforms. Intel decided to become more than a silicon vendor: they want to go the system provider route, and for that of course they need their very own software platform (yes a new one…):

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XcN_9vZ7j20

The video above is simply a mock up of what it would look like….This software platform is called Moblin. Moblin 1.0 is (was) a sister project of Nokia Maemo (foundation of Nokia Tablet OS): same Application Framework (Hildon), nearly the same API’s, same UI framework. However, according to Intel’s own words:

Moblin has “failed to generate much interest” among developers. “Moblin 1.0 wasn’t successful in creating this community push,” Hohndel (Intel’s Dirk Hohndel, director of Linux and open-source strategy,) was quoted as saying. “Having a vibrant community push is the winning factor.”   (source

So Intel needs a differentiator: Intel and its OEMs will now compete with Nokia, Android, Apple… Intel needs some fancier software, so here it is: Moblin 2.0 – still Linux based for the lower layers, but with a new graphical interface based on Clutter and Compiz. Clutter is a “modern” (ok still some glib ugliness in it) 2.5D widget framework, and Compiz a very nice 3D window manager, both based on OpenGL (ES). Here is an example of a Moblin Clutter application:

 httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AYGp6iBmCyM

Around this Intel is planning a lot of services and Applications, like the Contact Epicenter, or a Mozilla based browser, Fennec (incidentally same choice as Nokia for its tablets…all the other platforms being webkit based). And with the announcement of Intel acquiring OpenedHand, the company inherits all of OpenedHand’s projects:

  1. Clutter : You know it now

  2. gUPnP : UPnP library

  3. Matchbox : Window Manager + application used….in Nokia Tablet, OLPC and OpenMoko!

  4. Pimlico : set of Mobile PIM Applications

  5. Poky : An open source software development environment for the creation of Linux devices

So basically OpenedHand brings to Intel some key pieces for its platform, especially Clutter ….and the tools ALL the Linux vendor are missing: a Platform Builder to help OEMs put their platform in place! (Only Microsoft has it with the Windows Platform Builder, designed to adapt WinCE and WinMo to various hardware platforms, bring the necessary modules together, etc.). But perhaps the key OpenedHand assets for Intel are the people behind OpenedHand; Kudos to them to be there since 2000, and now part of Intel! Intel is serious about this platform, beware Symbian, Limo, WinCE, MacOSX mobile and Android, here is a new credible platform to look at!….Anyway Intel is  first a silicon fab, down to its DNA, so the open points will be:

  1. Is Intel able to commit long time efforts to software?

  2. How about software support to its OEMs?

  3. And the most important point: Is Intel able to design a software platform with a great user experience? .

The last point is crucial; WinMo and Symbian have failed in this regard, even if they have been designed by software companies. Putting open source technologies together is really not enough to make a consumer product.. I’m eager to see if Intel has, or is hiring some usability and design experts (and not only software engineers). Anyway having a new credible, deep pocket actor in the industry is always good news… and with the gap from MID to smartphone really blurring, we may expect some great devices!

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