It's no secret that Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has an advantage over the ARM (NASDAQ:ARMH) vendors in that its chips can run full Windows 8.1 as well as Google's (NASDAQ:GOOGL) vaunted Android platform. One could argue that the ARM vendors can run both Windows RT and Android, but the fact is that Windows RT, which is Windows on ARM, has been a flop since it is simply a less-featured version of Windows 8.1.
None of the major OEMs is using Windows RT except for Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) itself, since they are all happily selling fully featured Windows 8.1 devices. So, how does this translate into an advantage for Intel's mobile strategy?
Not quite dual-boot...
One thing that many seem to believe could end up being an advantage is the ability to sell devices that dual-boot both Windows and Android. This would mean that the device could be powered up as either a Windows device or an Android device, depending on user preference.While this is a neat idea in theory, and while some of the more obscure OEMs are likely to try to implement this in order to have a unique selling point, that's not really where the value here is.
The ability to run both Windows and Android is an advantage for OEMs from a risk and inventory-management standpoint. For example, suppose that you are an OEM and you're building both Android and Windows-based tablets. You're not quite sure how many of each you're going to sell -- consumer tastes are fickle -- but you do know that consumers are exhibiting a voracious demand for tablets in general. In this case, you have two options.
...but very close!
The first option is to keep separate chip/device inventories for the Windows tablets and for the Android devices. If you're correct about the mix of devices you'll sell, then this should play out just fine. However, if you're wrong, then you could end up with a glut of the device that didn't sell as well as expected and then shortages of the device that did sell.
The second option is to simply have a common hardware design for both Android and Windows devices. The only chips that are capable of supporting both are Intel chips, since Intel can run full Android and full Windows.
Given that Intel is willing to price aggressively, and given that Intel is willing to subsidize its very high-performance Bay Trail platform in order to win even very low-end sockets, it's tough to see OEMs simply thumbing their noses at Intel without serious discussion.
Foolish bottom line
While the ARM vendors are the incumbents in the Android tablet space, Intel's home-field advantage on Windows, coupled with the very hard work that it has put into the Android, mean that it can use this interesting angle in a bid to win designs. This isn't the only thing that will drive design wins -- Intel's chips need to be world-class. But assuming Intel's engineers get the design right and it can really go full-throttle on Android, this competitive advantage is too compelling to ignore.