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During the first quarter of 2014, Intel (NASDAQ: INTC ) is slated to launch its next generation system-on-chip platform for smartphones known as Merrifield. According to estimates based on Intel's statements at its recent investor day meeting, this platform will be a solid performer (at what is likely to be great power consumption), but it will probably slightly lag (in terms of peak performance, not necessarily sustained performance) the best from Qualcomm (NASDAQ: QCOM ) at the time.
More importantly, Qualcomm's top-end chip is marketable as a quad core processor while Merrifield sports a dual core. While this does look like a marketing "disaster," Intel has one trump card that it can play to completely turn the marketing tides.
64-bit is the new buzzword
When Apple (NASDAQ: AAPL ) announced that its A7 chip in the new iPhone 5s was 64-bit, it seemed that the race to "64-bit" was on. Samsung was out claiming that it would have a 64-bit phone next year, and Qualcomm even went so far as to tout its low-end 64-bit chip (fully cognizant of the fact that the company is throwing its higher-end, higher-performing chips under the bus). In short, the majority of the handset vendors were in a frenzy to get 64-bit parts out the door as soon as possible.
Intel has 64-bit, but can it capitalize?
Intel has long been viewed as a "laggard" in the smartphone chip space, and this view isn't off-base. However, the nice thing about this frenzied rush to 64-bit is that Intel's mobile processors are all 64-bit capable today. The only hurdle to shipping handsets and tablets with this 64-bit marketing point has been operating system support. Android, the operating system with over 80% global market share, is currently a 32-bit operating system.
Now, it seems from Qualcomm's announcements (rushing to announce a low end 64-bit chip that won't actually ship until the second half of 2014) that Intel will be the lone provider of high-end 64-bit smartphone chips for most of, if not all of, 2014. If Intel can capitalize on this marketing point next year with some of the partners that it has been very public about (Lenovo, Motorola/Google), then Intel could gain a real marketing advantage.
It's all about Android-64 at this point
Intel's hardware already implements a 64-bit version of the x86 instruction set, so the question comes down to software support. Intel already shown off its current generation tablet chip, known as Bay Trail, running a 64-bit version of Android. Although it's probably not yet ready for commercial deployment, the odds are good that Intel will try to enable a number of key partners (such as Google) to launch the "world's first" 64-bit Android devices. If Intel can pull this off, then not only does it gain an interesting marketing point, but it could also help the company establish X86 as an important architecture on Android.
Foolish bottom line
Admittedly, Intel probably won't have an incredibly large window of opportunity to capitalize on the 64-bit "craze," but if it can get a year's head start and some design wins thanks to this opportunity, this helps to clear the path to more design wins going forward as Intel's product lineup improves.
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