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Intel targets mobile devices market with Linux and app store

Intel demos Moblin 2.1 running on a mobile handset

It’s looking more and more like Intel has designs on the mobile handset space, with the chip giant this week demonstrating a version of its Linux-based Moblin platform for handsets.

Speaking at the Intel Developers Conference in San Francisco on Tuesday, Intel chief executive Paul Otellini, sketched out the company’s mobile platform strategy.

Otellini showed off a version of Moblin 2.1 running on a prototype handset with a large touch screen, similar in form factor to the iPhone. “What we’re talking about today, as you’ll see, is the first demonstration of Moblin version 2.1 for handhelds. And for handhelds we had to rethink the user experience,” Otellini said.

The demonstrated version of the software is expected to be ready by mid-2010.

Moblin is an umbrella open source project focused on the development of Linux for Intel-based devices. It incorporates Intel’s Mobile Internet Device (MID) architecture as well as various other consumer electronic devices, such as mobile handsets.

Intel has a long standing relationship with handset giant Nokia, which in the summer announced plans to jointly “define a new mobile platform beyond today’s smartphones, notebooks and netbooks”. Under the initiative the duo will seek to develop a new class of mobile computing device and chipset architectures which will combine performance with mobile broadband connectivity in a user-friendly ‘pocketable’ form factor.

Moblin is also aligned with Nokia’s own Linux-based mobile platform, Maemo, around a number of key open source technologies such as oFono, ConnMan, Mozilla, X.Org, BlueZ, D-BUS, Tracker, GStreamer, and PulseAudio. Moreover, Intel recently licensed Nokia’s HSPA 3G modem technologies and acquired mobile and embedded devices software specialist Wind River in June.

Intel’s interest in the mobile devices space appears to have been rekindled by the burgeoning success of the netbook market. “The netbook market has really been quite astounding. It’s been a growth-driver for Intel and a growth-driver for the industry. And in many ways the netbook has been able to fill in the gap that without it would ultimately have led to a down year,” Otellini said.

“So as we look at the opportunity around netbook volume and how to accelerate that even faster…It’s going to start out in netbooks, but we expect it to span this continuum, expanding down to handhelds,” he added.

One of the drivers of this initiative, and a key reason for the acquisition of Wind River, will be Intel’s own app store, catering to ultra mobile devices based on the Atom chipset. The Intel Atom Developer Program will make use of Wind River’s VxWorks product, which the company believes will help it achieve that developer grail of the ‘write once and run on all devices’ experience. “We’ll enable developers to be able to sell their components to other developers to be able to get a commercial arrangement going on there,” Otellini said.

Incidentally, Asus, Acer and Dell – three netbook manufacturers that are expected to launch mobile handsets based on Android in the near future – are the first subscribers to Intel’s app store programme. Given the historical trend towards fragmentation in the Linux market, it could be that Moblin will give these players another route into the mobile devices market.


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