Intel on the right track. Maybe.

By Doug Mohney November 29, 2013

Last week, Intel took a beating on Wall Street after announcing its revenue next year won’t be changing much from 2013. It also said it will open up its fabs to other chipmakers, focusing more on what customers want – whatever that means – rather than pushing its own designs.

Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said the company had become “insular” as he addressed an analyst meeting covered by Bloomberg. “We’d become focused on what was our best product rather than where the market was moving.”

The investment meeting turned into true confessions of how Intel had screwed up, having missed the boat on mobile devices while continuing to focus on traditional PCs.

“I was personally embarrassed that we seemed to have lost our way,” said Chairman Andy Bryant. “We were in denial on tablets,” he added. “It put us in a hole, and we are paying the price for that right now.”

Intel now says it needs to support Android, Apple IOS, Chrome OS and Linux, as well as Ye Olde Windows. “For the last decade, we’ve essentially been 100 percent Microsoft on the client,” said Intel PC chief Kirk Skaugen,.

If the first step to recovery is admitting your problems, Intel has made a good start at the executive level.

Getting into the fab business and opening up to even produce ARM chips is kind of mind-boggling.  Then again, if Apple could switch from Motorola to Intel chips back in the day, it isn’t a big stretch to see Intel making ARM processors because it can’t get its own Atom processors widely used.  

Image via Shutterstock

Opening up its fabs buys time. Intel has less than one percent of the handset processor market. Better a couple of bucks per third-party ARM times a lot of ARM chips than a larger number of dollars for a much smaller amount of Atom processors – and best if you can get money from both businesses. The company has invested tens of billions of dollars over the past three years on fabs and R&D.

But, the company has other issues to deal with as well. The company predicts the PC market will be down to low-single-digit percent growth. Combine that with its 

spending to get customers to use Intel chips in tablets, and total profitability is likely going to take a hit, according to Intel CFO Stacy Smith.

Mixed evidence of Intel’s changing path can be found in its current efforts to unload its over-the-top (OTT) TV bits for $500 million (Good luck with that price tag) and the opening of Intel pop-up store outlets.  I’m not a big fan of the Intel Retail Store, since all the company is essentially doing is trying to move its customers’ products – I mean, this is what co-marketing dollars are for, right?

Intel’s main luxury is its size, with plenty of cash, brand recognition, and good market position.  It needs to move faster and more effectively if it wants to be more than a manufacturer of someone else’s mobile chips – traits it has not demonstrated yet against the emergence of ARM on mobile platforms.

Contributing Editor

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