Wind River: Intel is aiming another big gun at Apple, ARM

Opinion – Intel isn’t kidding about the embedded and mobile market. Today’s acquisition is yet another sign that the company isn’t playing for second place and is trying to replace ARM, MIPS and Power chips in those markets. Most interestingly, the company is learning from Apple: An attractive end-to-end software platform will promote the use of the Atom processor in the future. Apple should be worried.

Seriously, Wind River? Really? What would Intel do with Wind River and pay nearly a billion dollars for it?

Intel always had a tough time branching out in new business segments that were unrelated to its core microprocessor business. Most of those businesses were enthusiastically announced, but ended up dying or being sold. Somehow it seems that Intel will always remain the big hardware giant in the back of the orchestra, the supplier of the instruments if you prefer that comparison, that would want to play right in front of the audience, but just can’t figure out a way how to get there.

Recently, the strategy has changed. Instead of covering three steps at once, Intel seems to be taking one step at a time, only tackling business segments that directly neighbor its CPU core knowledge. The advance in the graphics chip business is just one example. Mobile and embedded opportunities opened up by the Atom processor others.

In the past, Intel’s branching out appeared to have be half-baked let’s see efforts. Now we are seeing more aggressive strategies that take the competition head-on and flanking them at the same time. Wind River is the flank especially Apple and ARM may not have seen coming. 

A few weeks ago, I was invited by Intel to have a first-hand look at their next-generation Moorestown platform, a two-chip solution that will enable the company to attack the smartphone market. Besides the hardware, the software was a stunning advance – an advance the company is currently showing potential customers. There is a complete and very clean dynamic interface design based on Moblin Linux. It is very different from what Apple currently has on the iPhone, but is, at least in my opinion, among the very best I have seen on mobile devices yet. And other than Apple, Intel will offer the interface (possibly more than just one) to its customers free of charge, if they buy the hardware – and allow customers to modify it. In some way, it feels like Intel got frustrated that smartphone and certain software manufacturers were not able to come up with a software solution that would be able to compete with the iPhone OS.

And guess what: Wind River played a huge part in the creation of this software platform for Moorestown.

Seeing the Moorestown hardware in a live demonstration alone makes you wonder whether Apples decision to work on its own hardware was such a smart move or a suicide attempt. Adding the software interface to it suggests that Intel is trying to copy Apple’s business model to come up with software that adds value to its hardware and if the current interface is as good as it looks, we may see stunning MIDs and smartphones in the not too distant future – phones that will challenge the iPhone.

But, of course, Wind River goes a bit deeper than the iPhone. The company targets embedded devices and Intel’s Atom processor is clearly headed in this direction to challenge today’s ARM, MIPS and Power systems. Intel said it will continue to support these three rival hardware platforms, but it is clear that Atom will take priority over the others. There are half a billion devices running Wind River software today. This is a massive market Intel is aiming for. The artillery is in place and it will be interesting to see how the firm’s rivals, especially ARM, will react to protect their turf.       
Other than in the PC space, ARM is the market leader in embedded and communications devices, and Intel is the newcomer. Intel artillery is in position, the target is all over the place, but the defense is much stronger than what AMD had to offer a few years ago. This will be one interesting battle to watch.  

Wolfgang Gruener is the founder of TG Daily. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.