I recently chided Intel (Nasdaq: INTC) CEO Paul Otellini for wishing he had a mobile strategy after selling the company's XScale technology to Marvell Technology Group (Nasdaq: MRVL) several years ago.

By my judgment, Intel got rid of that extraneous operation, along with memory chips and several other distractions, to focus its efforts on a resurgent Advanced Micro Devices (NYSE: AMD). If so, the move had the desired effect of allowing Intel to push AMD to death's door in 2007 and 2008.

But the company is not satisfied with this explanation. Intel spokesman Tom Beermann wrote me a friendly email to say as much:

The reason we sold off the XScale line was because the [ARM Holdings (Nasdaq: ARMH)] architecture didn't allow us to differentiate our products since all ARM licensees are basically making the same part (or have to spend money to ensure their version of the ARM part works with the software that runs on ARM). We dropped the XScale line to make sure our efforts in the smartphone space take advantage of Intel architecture-based features (performance, PC software compatibility, and others). It really had nothing to do with AMD.

What Paul was acknowledging in his remarks is that we'd like to be further along in our smartphone efforts but in the long run we believe an approach that relies on our strengths (volume manufacturing, leading edge-technology, chip design leadership) will ultimately deliver the kind of products that will lead to success for us in smartphones.

So Intel wasn't building up to give AMD a kill shot.  Rather, it decided to focus on its own intellectual property and core strengths, and from that effort, the Atom chip was born. That makes almost as much sense as my original thesis, so I'll take Tom's version at face value.

Either way, the fact remains that Intel is facing an uphill battle in the smartphone space, at least partly due to these strategic decisions made many years ago. Qualcomm (Nasdaq: QCOM) and Texas Instruments (NYSE: TXN) are dueling rather undisturbed over who gets to rule the unaffiliated chunks that are left in this market while the Atom is largely relegated to netbook duty. That platform is so 93 seconds ago, you know?

The latest revamp of the Atom line is said to improve its power draw and general efficiency by orders of magnitude, and Atom is supported by popular software environments such as the Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) Android platform. 2011 might be the year of Intel inside smartphones, or at least the first real attempt to get there. The company just had to do it without that ubiquitous ARM technology.

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