Having a mobile phone that makes calls, accesses the internet, captures photos and video and performs other computer-like functions has become common in the past eight years, yet for many people around the world these smartphones are simply out of reach.
At Mobile World Congress, it was evident that premium smartphones will continue getting better. But the compelling story is that many so-called entry-level models will be more affordable than ever, many priced below $100.
While hunger for high-end, premium phones like the sleek new Samsung S6 may never subside, many people are unable or unwilling to spend a hundred bucks for a mobile phone
“Right now, about 2 to 3 billion of us are connected [to the mobile internet], but we’re talking 6 to 8 billion of us by 2020,” said Aicha Evans, vice president and general manager of the Intel Platform Engineering Group.
“Mobile technology is becoming a core element of humanity,” Evans told iQ. “It’s about the problems and opportunities in our global community.”
It will require many technological advancements to handle this kind of growth, but one thing seems certain: a smartphone will be the device that brings many people their first ride on the internet.
According to a recent article in Forbes, about 22 million smartphones were sold in India during the last quarter of 2014, which marked a 90 percent increase from the same period the year before.
Smartphones have become the wallet, keys and utility letting more people tap into the benefits of what the internet has to offer, from communications to ecommerce. While lower-cost smartphones have been available for years, analysts believe that if prices drop even further they will become accessible to more first-time mobile-internet users, particularly in developing countries.
A 2013 article by Intel Free Press reported that NPS DisplaySearch expected sales of smartphones costing less than $150 to double each year between 2010 and 2016, while Strategy Analytics predicted sales of these lower-cost phones could reach 500 million units by 2015. Informa estimated that by 2017 entry-level smartphones (less than $150) will outsell more expensive smartphones and account for just over half of the mobile phone market.
That’s where the new Intel Atom x3 line of chips come into play. Debuted this week at MWC, the X3 shown running 27 different smartphone models, ranging in price from $75 to $200. Before it was branded Intel Atom x3, the technology as known as SoFIA, which stood for “Smart or Feature phone with Intel Architecture.”
These chips are powerful and cheap, wrote Wired’s Christina Bonnington, “and are sure to drive the industry trend of high-capability, low-cost smartphones to even greater extremes.”
“This…is notable because it could enable much more capable phone hardware at the $50 price point, which will be a huge boon to smartphone adoption in developing nations,” wrote Bonnington.
“For Intel it’s the first time we have an integrated SOC (system-on-a-chip) with application processor, graphic imaging and wireless,” said Evans. All of those technologies are squeezed into a small piece of silicon about the size of a human thumbnail.
CNET reported that a system-on-a-chip is usually more desirable for device makers because they can create slimmer and sometimes more powerful phones. Intel Atom X3 is currently equipped for 3G networks and later this year it will be run on 4G LTE networks. Bluetooth, WiFi and Global Navigation Satellite System are supported in every x3 chip.
Evans acknowledged that other technology companies have been doing this kind of thing for years, but complex integration is part of Intel’s DNA. She believes Intel’s mastery of Moore’s Law – doubling of transistors on a single chip every 18 months to two years – has the potential to change the wireless world.
“You know what happened when we applied Moore’s Law to the PC or to servers [that run data processing and internet services]? We changed people’s lives, we changed the course of humanity,” said Evans, mentioning that 40 years ago data processing was done by big mainframe computers.
“But since then, Moore’s Law has allowed us to turn mainframe capabilities into personal computers, which changed our lives at home, work and many other places,” she said. “Applying Moore’s law, we can revolutionize the mobile world like we did with PCs and servers.”
She said Intel’s ability to pack more capabilities into smaller chip will push the envelope on what’s available for smartphones and mobile devices.
Introducing it at MWC, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich said the x3 provides exceptional performance for the value and entry-level smartphones, phablets and tablets.
“We can get a customer to market in six to eight weeks with this product,” he said.