Intel Deal With Mobile Phone Maker Lava Raises Questions
The immediate response is always the same.
"What?!" Some people think. Some choose to shake their heads in disbelief and others laugh thinking it's a joke. But then when it's stressed that it's not a joke, the response is always the same.
"What was Intel thinking?"
I am, of course, talking about the recent revelation that the giants of the processor world would be making their grand entrance into the arena of smartphones inside the chassis of one manufactured by Lava. No wonder the initial response is the same.
For the uninitiated, here's a rundown: On April 18th strong rumors emerged that the Lava Xolo X900 would be the first smartphone in the world to be powered by an Intel mobile processor. On the 19th, Lava and Intel collaborated on a launch event in Delhi where they revealed that, indeed, the rumors were true.
So, why is this, such a big deal?
Because Intel's first processor for mobiles (codenamed: Medfield) has been a big deal for over two years ever since it was leaked back in 2010. For a market that solely relies on ARM architecture processors (manufactured by the Qualcomms and the Texas Instruments of the world), the entry of x86 processors has the potential of really shaking things up. It signifies Intel's first big step into the world of smartphones, hitherto a monopoly of ARM.
Lava, on the other hand, is a mobile phone manufacturer of little renown. It is one of a bunch (that includes others such as Karbonn, Micromax, and Zen) that is popular because it sells very low-end phones for the budget market. Its portfolio doesn't speak very highly of its prowess at making smartphones. In fact, right now the only Lava smartphone I could find in the market was the S12, sporting a 600MHz processor running Android 2.2.
So, you can understand why Intel's decision to enter into a partnership with Lava has left many bewildered.
For this to make any sense, there could be three reasons why Intel made this staggeringly confounding move:
1. Lava was willing to let Intel have complete control over the way the Xolo X900 was designed, manufactured and maybe even marketed. If Intel had gone with a Samsung or an HTC or a Motorola, it would definitely not have had as much say over how the device would turn out as those manufacturers have clout in the market. Lava doesn't and was therefore probably more flexible with the terms of the deal. Sounds somewhat plausible.
2. "Post-PC" seems to be the catchword of the season and regardless of how accurate it turns out to be, the popularity of the mobile platform as PC-competitors (in the form of tablets) cannot be denied. There is anxiety among the traditional players in the PC arena and that is best exemplified by Microsoft's decision to make Windows 8 tablet ready and able to run on ARM processors. Seeing its biggest partner cozy up to ARM may have forced Intel's hand. After all, ARM has a massive head-start in the mobile arena with a vibrant ecosystem of apps, operating systems and manufacturers whereas Intel has just reached the starting line. Quite likely.
3. Now, I may be reaching into the realm of science-fiction here, but hear me out. It could be possible that Lava actually impressed Intel enough to seal the deal. Maybe unbeknownst to everyone, Lava has been investing in R&D and has scaled up its manufacturing prowess and quality control. Highly unlikely.
Whatever the reasons may be, you can't deny that the Intel-Lava partnership is a strange one. To an outsider, it looks like Lava has just pulled off a coup. Or was Intel just desperate?
But the question still remains. What was Intel thinking?