Intel kills Atom, smartphone, tablet future in limbo

Has Intel finally thrown in the towel in the smartphone market? It seem so. As part of the company's comprehensive reforms, which also saw 11% of its worforce get pink slips, Intel has revealed the immediate cancellation of two of its current and still coming products: the SoFIA platform and the next gen Broxton chips. While those names might not ring too many bells, these basically means that Intel has effectively killed off the future of its Atom processors, putting into question the very future of its smartphone and, more importantly, low-cost tablet dreams.

Intel hasn't exactly been doing well in the mobile market, at least not in comparison with the likes of Qualcomm or maybe even MediaTek. While it does have a foot, maybe even just toes, in some entry level tablets, both of the Windows and even the Android kind, its presence in smartphones is nigh negligible, aside from a temporary surge in popularity thanks to the ASUS ZenFone 2, the 4 GB kind in particular.

Powering these two classes of devices are Intel's Atom processors, the chip maker's attempt to corner the low-power, low-cost device market to rival ARM's dominance. However, Atom has also become synonymous with performance that didn't match expectation or marketing, leading many to pan or even abandon the platform, especially in its early years. The Atom has admittedly improved and Intel even tried to revise its branding scheme last year to match that of the Core i family. Sadly, those might now be for naught.

Intel has confirmed that it is canceling Broxton, which was supposed to be the platform on which the next gen Atom chips would be based on. These Broxton chips were actually expected to ship in a few months. SoFIA, on the other hand, which melded Intel's Atom CPUs with its LTE modem into a single SoC, did launch after much delays but also undelivered. In particular, it powered a few Atom x3 based smartphones but was too late the hero.

While Intel's practical cancellation of the Atom line is unsurprising, it also still raises a few lingering questions. Has Intel, once and for all, given up on its smartphone ambitions? From the looks of it, yes. Or at least for now. But if Intel is giving its ARM rivals this much space and time, it might never be able to get into the game ever again. So we could practically consider Intel's smartphone plans DOA.

But the more pressing questions revolve around low-cost tablets and netbooks, like the Chromebook kind. These have traditionally been powered by Atom processors. With both smartphone and tablet Broxton chips canceled, the only option moving forward would be to adopt the Core m processors instead. While those are more powerful than Atoms while not consuming more power, they are also more expensive. The cancellation of future Atom chips also put into question the future of the non-premium Surface line, which is currently powered by an Intel Atom x7, as well as the expected Surface Phones, which may be powered by a Qualcomm Snapdragon 830 after all.

The silver lining, at least for OEMs, is that Intel hasn't 100% ditched Atom. It will continue to sell x5 and x7 chips (as the x3 is based on the now cancelled SoFIA) as well as, perhaps, newer generation Atom chips based on the Sky Lake platform. The latter, however, will remain within the tablet market, which means smartphones are still a no-go.

VIA: AnandTech