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Atom chip on Android smartphones expected at CES

Analysts looking for devices from LG and Samsung

January 4, 2012 06:02 AM ET

Computerworld - LG Electronics and Samsung are expected to unveil Android smartphones next week that use Intel's latest Atom chip, dubbed Medfield, analysts said. The move, if it pans out, could portend a shift away from ARM-based chips, which are in 95% of smartphones.

The arrival of Atom-based smartphones at the International CES show in Las Vegas would join Google and Intel at the hip, said Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates. With Google in the midst of acquiring Motorola Mobility for $12.5 billion, at least some Motorola smartphones could be soon running Atom chips, as well.

A joint Intel-Google effort on smartphone designs would also allow Intel to incorporate smartphone security software from McAfee, which is an Intel company.

"It helps Google especially to have McAfee in the mix, because Android is not known for its security," Gold said. "Intel has spent a lot of time with Google to optimize Android for their chips."

LG, Samsung and Google could not be reached for comment on their smartphone announcements at CES, which runs Jan. 10-13. Several analysts said LG and Samsung are expected to show off Atom-based smartphones at the event. LG has set a news conference for Monday morning to discuss a range of announcements; Samsung has set a separate news conference on Monday afternoon. Presumably, new Android phones on Atom processors would run the latest Android 4.0 operating system, known also as Ice Cream Sandwich, though that isn't certain.

Intel has released a photo of a reference design smartphone running Medfield, which MIT's Technology Review posted recently online. According to Technology Review, Intel Vice President of Architecture Stephen Smith said products based on Medfield would be announced in the first half of 2012. That dovetails with what Intel promised at its Intel Developer Forum in September.

Technology Review said the Medfield prototype phone looked similar to an Apple iPhone 4, although it weighed less. Intel would not comment about any upcoming Atom announcements at CES.

Although the Intel prototype ran Android 2.3, Gold said Intel and others would need to offer devices that use Android 4.0 to stay competitive.

"Atom in smartphones could do well if they get this right, and LG's should be the real first competitive offering," Gold said. "But Intel has a lot of catching up with Qualcomm and Nvidia on smartphone chips. Medfield allows Intel to get into the game. Intel's been struggling to get a toe-hold in smartphones."

Rob Enderle, of Enderle Group, said he also expects Samsung and LG to unveil Atom-based smartphones on Android at CES. But he agreed that ARM-based phones will be "very hard to displace."

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