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Intel and Nokia's brave new world

They have seen the future. And it is Linux

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Intel and Nokia today announced a long-term relationship focused on future mobile products, then hosted a conference call with reporters and analysts to discuss why, what, when, where, and how. You can be sure that Redmond is listening closely.

Today's discussion was long on why, cagey on what, and noncommittal on when, where, and how.

Anand Chandrasekher, Intel SVP and general manager of the company's Ultra Mobility Group, began by pointing out the glaringly obvious, saying that "The internet clearly continues to evolve and to touch more and more aspects of our daily lives."

He then provided some statistics to support that not-so-shocking assertion: Today, there are more internet users - 1.6 billion - than the 1.3 billion who use landline phones. That's double the 800 million cars worldwide. Over 64 billion web pages exist today, according to Chandrasekher, and over 140,000 new websites are added daily.

Of course, the internet - as is true for all communications and computing - is going mobile, and if you couple that fact with Intel CEO Paul Otellini's recent assertion that his company's main growth areas are in the small-device arena, the Intel/Nokia partnership makes sense.

But we've been down this road before. Intel and Nokia have previously attempted to team up to support the development of communication devices, but those efforts came to naught.

Today is different, according to Rod O'Shea, regional manager of Intel's EMEA (Europe, Middle East, Africa) group. He told The Reg that the pervasiveness of the internet changes the rules and that "there's a volume of opportunity" to create a new class of devices.

A goal of the new partnership, he said, is to enable a faster time to market for such devices and to do so with reduced development costs. According to O'Shea, "The time is now" for such a collaboration - implying, of course, that previous partnership efforts between Intel and Nokia were premature.

Nokia's EVP Devices, Kai Oistamo, agrees, telling the conference-call listeners that "If you go back eight, nine years, at that time even if some people intellectually agreed that the computing and mobile industries were coming together, that was not really the right timing," adding that "Now I don't think any one of us doubts that today, it is the time. Now mobile and computing industries are coming together."

As Oistamo put it, Intel and Nokia are coming together to create a "brave new world."

If so, today's announcement is just a first step into that new world - a "technology collaboration announcement," as Chandrasekher put it. "This is about a strategic relationship between our two companies," he said.

To be specific, today's announcement concerned a three-pronged collaboration, with the two companies working together on:

  • Intel-architecture definition and chipsets for future mobile computing devices
  • Intel's Moblin and Nokia's Maemo Linux-based operating systems for those future products
  • Intel licensing Nokia's HSPA/3G modem IP

Both Chandrasekher and Oistamo repeatedly deflected questions about specific product plans, declining to give any specifics about classes of products and timing of product releases - even refusing to discuss the extent of the relationship in terms of what Chandrasekher referred to as "heads, dollars, etcetera" - although Rod O'Shea told The Reg that "You can assume that this is a substantial effort."

In a joint statement, however, Oistamo said "We will explore new ideas in designs, materials and displays that will go far beyond devices and services on the market today," and Chandrasekher said that "There is no reason that 1.6 billion users...cannot over time experience the full internet in a pocketable device."

"Over time" is the key take-away in Chandrasekher's statement - no specifics were discussed. When asked whether any future products will be Atom-based, and whether they'll be based on Intel's Moorestown or Medfield architectures, he said "The specific brands and technologies I'm not commenting on today because we're not talking about a product."

Oistamo agreed, saying that "It's premature to talk about any specifics on how we will apply the technology at this stage."

The Nokia rep did provide one specific, however: "Why Linux? It's undoubtedly an important part of that brave new world, combining the mobile and computing worlds together."

Take that, Redmond.

Although Windows Mobile may have a large installed base, and although Intel and Microsoft have had a long and mutually beneficial relationship, today's announcement adds fuel to speculation that the "brave new world" of mobile computing devices won't be ruled by Redmond. ®

Bootnote

An agreement between Intel and Nokia naturally raises questions about Chipzilla's devotion to the increasingly marginalized WiMAX - but Chandrasekher says nothing has changed in that love affair. "We don't believe that this announcement has any effect on WiMAX, one way or another," he said. "In this partnership we're expanding our broadband wireless portfolio by adding to it a license to be able to implement Nokia's 3G HSPA technology." And, yes, he did speak in italics as noted.

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