Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has seen a lot of change over the past 30 years, but the one near-certainty in its business since the early 1990's has been the "Wintel" duopoly the company has enjoyed with Microsoft. However, it's not a stretch to say that the world of computing has changed more in the past five years than it did in the 20 before that. With the explosive growth in mobile computing, the PC is losing relevance, and Intel is working hard to adapt.
With that in mind, we asked three Motley Fool contributors to answer this question: Where will Intel be in five years?
Keith Noonan: The next five years will see Intel battling to maintain strength in core sectors like personal computers and servers, and trying to make up for lost time in mobile. While the death of the PC may have been declared prematurely, it seems unlikely that this market will see a sustained rebound or provide a significant growth opportunity. Intel may be able to wrestle additional market share away from Advanced Micro Devices in the personal computer segment as the smaller competitor continues to struggle, and customized manufacturing advantages look to give Intel a continued edge over ARM Holdings in data centers, but big challenges will persist even with wins on these fronts.
Intel's most recent 10-K report suggests that holding to Moore's Law, which states that the number of possible transistors on a circuit doubles roughly every two years, is an achievable feat. While the circuit-maker's massive research and development expenditures, and top-of-the-line engineers are great assets in this pursuit, doubt exists as to whether the traditional semiconductor scaling model is sustainable over the next decade. The costs and benefits of shrinking to and beyond 14-nm are already suggesting challenging market dynamics.
With PC sales looking stagnant, and uncertainty about chip scaling, Intel's future looks heavily dependent on succeeding in mobile. Adoption of its 3G and LTE SoFIA chips, which are being manufactured by Taiwan Semiconductor, should provide an early indication as to what Intel's road to being a player in mobile looks like. The low-cost SoFIA chips have a good shot at success, however numerous delays across the company's product lines indicate there are a great many variables in the broader push. Proper timing will be crucial to establishing solid mobile market share. If the necessary technological progressions occur, and Intel can win the favor of mobile manufacturers through product strength and pricing, the chipmaker should be looking good five years down the line.
Otherwise, it could be a bumpy road for the company and its investors.
Jamal Carnette: Intel's future is unclear, but I feel it hinges upon its ability to grow and monetize the mobile market. As Intel's former bread and butter, the PC, experienced a 10% sales decline last year and continues to fall among competition from tablets and PCs, former CEO Paul Otellini's lack of a mobile plan continues to hound the company. Analysts and professionals understand that Intel chips are around the world's best, but by missing the arriving so late to the party they company has lost out to Qualcomm in this market.
New CEO Brian Krzanich appears to be hell-bent to correct his predecessor's mistakes in mobile. This year he boldly proclaimed Intel would be in 40 million tablets in 2014, up from only 10 million in 2013. And while he's moving forward on this goal admirably, there's no guarantee the company will ever monetize this effort in any meaningful way. As is, the company is essentially paying manufacturers to use its tablet chips in the hopes they will pay more later or Intel can lower the bill of goods in future years.
Intel is a tremendously well-run company that pays an amazing dividend, and oozes cash flow. That said, I'd like to see a stronger PC market and a less commoditized tablet market going forward. With the company's stock sitting near decade highs, the risks become even more prevalent over the next five years.
Jason Hall: Jamal and Keith bring up some great points. Intel's business is certainly being challenged by the major consumer shift away from the PC and to the mobile device. There's absolutely no arguing that Intel was way late to the mobile game. I won't repeat what Jamal and Keith highlighted above regarding Intel's efforts to get in deep in mobile, but I will emphasize that the company's R&D strength, vertical integration, and the scale of its existing businesses will aid it in those efforts. Keith's points about Intel's strength in the data center and in servers is also notable -- after all, this is what enables mobile computing to be so amazing.
But we aren't talking about Intel today, or even next year, and there is a burgeoning new industry that could dwarf everything that Intel has ever done before: The Internet of Everything! Okay, so I know the name sounds a bit hokey, but it's incredibly accurate. Every single day, more and more devices of all kinds, get connected to the Internet and to one another, ranging from consumer goods, to household appliances, to industrial equipment.
According to Cisco Systems, there are 13.8 billion things connected to the Internet today, and that number is likely to balloon to 50 billion by 2020, and every one of them will require a microprocessor, and other chipsets. Intel's strength in R&D will really shine at developing specialized microprocessors and Systems on a Chip, or SoCs to meet specific requirements for security, efficiency, and capability, and while this is going on, Intel's server business will continue to grow, powering the foundation that makes the Internet of Everything possible.
Sure, Intel's stock is as high as it has been in a decade, and still well below the Dot Com bubble, but it's also fairly valued today by most metrics, and the company has a fantastic balance sheet and cash position, giving management a lot of flexibility. I think the future is much less uncertain than it may seem on the surface; five years from now, Intel will be even stronger.