Intel is–Sadly–Stepping Out of the Smartphone Game
One of my favorite Android smartphones to date is the ASUS Zenfone 2 and the ASUS Zenfone ZOOM. They are largely the same phone inside, just the ZOOM has a massive camera on it. The number one thing I love about those phones–besides the 4GB of RAM (they were the first phones to have that)–is that they have Intel Atom quad-core processors in them. This offers a lot of options. First off, they’re blazing fast, yes, but secondly these being full-on x86 processors allows you to install all manner of operating systems on them besides Android itself.
Unfortunately, the news just hit that Intel is cancelling all of its future mobile processors. While their report doesn’t say whether or not this will include cancelling their Willow Trail mobile processors, it’s a good bet that will never hit the streets. Unfortunately, that probably means the upcoming ASUS Zenfone 3 will not be Intel-based like its predecessors. And of course likely no other future devices (though some tablets may still use Intel mobile processors for a bit) will have them “inside” either.
Regardless, this doesn’t come as a shock. As optimistic as I’ve been in the past, and as good a deal as Intel was giving manufacturer’s if they’d just use their mobile processors, the recent layoffs of over 12,000 Intel employees was a sign that there were going to be some pretty massive cuts company-wide, and the unprofitable mobile processor business was an easy choice, regardless of any 10-year plans that Intel may have had for the platform.
This isn’t the end for having mobile devices with somewhat more open architectures, though. With more and more operating systems developing ARM versions (even the great FreeBSD has an ARM version now), that means you’ll be able to take advantage of the ARM processors in your mobile devices and leverage them with other operating systems.
But it all still pisses me off. Back in the 90’s, you had the choice of three different processors to install in your desktop computer: Intel chips, AMD chips, and Cyrix chips. I like having options, and Cyrix actually developed one of the best processors ever made with their 686’s. When Cyrix closed down, that left us with a duopoly that couldn’t put enough pressure on Intel (though AMD definitely gave it the ol’college try with their Athlon64 processors). And I want that same kind of competition in the mobile space, even beyond Tegra vs. MediaTek vs. Qualcomm vs. Exynos vs. A9. And non-ARM-based processors would make it all the better.
Oh well. Hopefully great software and modified Android operating systems can close the gap here. Nice try, Intel. Seriously. And in the meantime, you can still get your hands on a Zenfone 2 or Zenfone ZOOM, and likely have those phones last you a good long while.