Will Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) Android ever replace Microsoft's (NASDAQ:MSFT) Windows? Analysts at Gartner think so; by 2017, the research firm expects Google's mobile operating system to have fully supplanted Microsoft's Windows as the world's dominant computing environment.
Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) could play a big role. The company's new Bay Trail chips can run 64-bit Android, meaning that devices running Google's mobile operating system could be about to get far more powerful.
The power of 64-bit architecture
The market for mobile devices has exploded in recent years -- demand for tablets is expected to have increased nearly 60% in 2013. Meanwhile, the market for traditional PCs is in decline -- PC shipments fell to a historic low in the first quarter, and have remained poor all year.
Yet, there has to be a limit. Smartphones and tablets excel at many tasks (web browsing, video consumption, gaming) making them ideal devices for consumers. However, when it comes to heavy computation, mobile processors are still lacking.
Intel's new, 64-bit chips could change that. Simply put, 64-bit processors, as opposed to the current, 32-bit ones, allow for far greater performance. The biggest issue is one of memory -- 32-bit systems are limited to 4 GB of RAM. Most smartphones and tablets have less than 4 GB of RAM (Samsung's beefy Galaxy Note 3 only has 3 GB), but as the devices become ever more capable, that 4 GB hard cap looms menacingly.
Intel claims that, by going to 64-bit, some mobile applications, including Adobe Photoshop, would see a 40% performance boost. In short, 64-bit would make mobile devices much more powerful, and therefore, able to do some of the processing jobs once reserved for traditional PCs.
Oversized Android hybrids could accelerate the PC's demise
These overpowered mobile devices sporting Google's Android could take the form of oversized tablets. Both Samsung and Apple are rumored to be working on larger, 12-inch tablets to be released in 2014. Laptops with 11- to 13-inch screens are fairly common; equipped with a keyboard and a 64-bit processor, a 12-inch tablet could cannibalize a large chunk market for these traditional PCs.
Microsoft seems to have accepted this process as inevitable; indeed, Microsoft's Windows strategy aims to keep the PC relevant in the mobile era. A new Microsoft TV ad profiles Asus' T100, a 10.1-inch Windows 8 laptop with a detachable keyboard. Microsoft's ad pitches the T100 against Apple's iPad, hoping that some would-be iPad buyers would consider a PC running Microsoft's Windows instead.
But I think the cannibalization is likely to head in the other direction. Indeed, Microsoft's attempts at bringing Windows to mobile have borne little fruit, and the radical changes may have even discourage some buyers.
In IDC's recent report on the tablet market, the research firm remarked that tablets running Microsoft's operating system continue to struggle, while Microsoft itself has reported disappointing Surface sales, taking a $900 million writedown on hardware back in July. Before Windows 8 was released, Microsoft's new operating system was expected to give PC sales a boost -- it did no such thing; Samsung executives even blamed the "uncompetitive Windows platform" for poor PC sales.
Will Antel defeat Wintel?
In its heyday, "Wintel" (Microsoft's Windows running on Intel's processors) dominated the computing space. Given the rise of mobile, those days are obviously gone. Yet, mobile devices remain limited -- the traditional PC seems destined to live on in some form, at least for the foreseeable future.
But for how long remains uncertain, and if Intel's new, 64-bit chips gives Google's Android the boost it needs, the mobile operating system should further expand its dominance. Larger, more powerful Android devices should eat away at even greater share of the market for Microsoft's Windows.
In time, "Antel" could come to replace Wintel.