Hot on the heels of this year’s Mobile World Congress, Prashanth Adiraju, Director of Intel South Asia’s New Platforms & Business Group sits down with us for a chat about Intel’s newly launched Medfield processors for smartphones, and the interesting partnership with India’s Lava to launch the XOLO Android phone in India.

What does Intel think about the smartphone market?

If you step back and look back at the phone industry, phones have become smarter and much more compute intensive in the past few years—only ten percent of the usage is for voice calls. The things consumers are beginning to do on phones are very similar to what a typical computer would do: browsing the web, posting pictures online, watching multimedia videos, playing some immersive games. That’s the essence of what makes this opportunity very interesting for us. India is in the early phase of a smartphone run. We’re moving from first time buyers in the basic- or feature phone-type market to growth being driven by smartphones. Growth in India is 3X of the world average. That’s what makes this market an interesting opportunity for us. Fundamentally, our objective is to help deliver the best technology, so we’re taking what we’ve done in the PC industry to the smartphone industry.

Besides, the market is pretty broad, in terms of reach and there are players that have established a good presence for themselves in the last few years. They’ve established a very healthy feature phone business for themselves. So as we looked at the India market what was critical was to deliver a reference design that essentially fits in the premium smartphone segment and give our customers the ability to take it to market quickly and modify the user experience, which has to do with how apps get consumed and how the user interface looks.

The man with the plan

The man with the plan

So Intel is going down a path of extending our business model to build a smartphone reference design that delivers leading edge technology: 8 megapixel camera that takes 10 pictures in less than a second; being able to view 1080p video with HDMI on your TV. Having 14 days of standby and providing leading-edge browsing capabilities.

Now the second aspect of the strategy as far as India is concerned was to take the smartphone reference design and engage with a partner who is looking at transitioning from what has been a feature phone business to what will be a higher growth business around smartphones. Lava is one such customer. We’ve partnered with them with our smartphone reference design and what they will do in the next couple of months is bring this design to market. Lava is one of India’s fastest growing mobile handset companies and they will be able to demonstrate to the market how innovative and compelling this product can be. 

Can you tell us how the association with Lava came about?

It boils down to a few things. Over the long run, we will engage with many partners. What was important for us was the speed with which we would be able to bring this technology to market. The second aspect was how innovative and cutting edge, in terms of a user experience, Lava has built its business. In the last three years, they’ve been one of the fastest growing companies, because they’ve been able to build a lot of innovation around their existing business.

What was the strategy for creating a new brand, XOLO, for this product?

There are two branding strategies here: Lava is essentially a mass market feature phone brand. They’re looking at this new higher growth business and they have to communicate innovation around a smartphone, which is significantly different to a feature phone, which is the essence of the XOLO brand. This brand is a line-up of products that Lava will build out over the next few years to represent that smartphone line. The role that we want to play is to communicate that here is the technology inside the smartphone—“Intel inside”. The pull that we want to create is to communicate the technology goodness that we’ve built. Communication to the market will essentially be a joint approach. 

Power house processors

Power house processors

Can you tell us about the choice to go with stock Android 2.3? Will customers see any fragmentation between X86 and ARM when it comes to buying a phone or using apps?

We got into this new business and focus was important. We had to be able to deliver a certain product around a certain operating environment. The choice of Android was obvious, because that’s where the market momentum currently is. In India, more than 45 percent of smartphones being sold have Android OS. In other markets, it’s 50 to 60 percent. With regards to what we’re going to ship in the near term, we are optimizing this reference design around android 2.3 and then there will be a refresh of that quickly in the market. If you buy the 2.3 version, you’ll get a refresh in a few months to the 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich product. In the second half of the year, you’ll see products shipped around ICS.

They key distinction is that Android is being optimized for X86—google and Intel announced a partnership, wherein the android experience will be optimized around X86 architecture. The best experience on Android is going to be on X86. I think you’ll see the ecosystem and developer community take advantage of that capability over the next few quarters.

If you’re a developer, and lets’ take the favorite game of Angry Birds, the only ecosystem that existed at the time was ARM. When we had a reference design out there, Angry Birds seamlessly worked on X86. If you’re a developer, it seamlessly gets ported to this architecture and it works. Now, if you really want to unleash the best of imaging, high-def playback, browsing performance and things around the nature of the real core technologies that Intel is building, then you’ll start seeing new games and applications released uniquely on X86. That’s where you’ll start seeing the capabilities of the architecture, but our direction right now is going to be the Android Marketplace. The majority of these applications with seamlessly work. Some will work significantly better because of the technology capability of the new architecture.

From a consumer standpoint it’s going to be seamless. If you’re a developer and you have written an application, you’ll essentially recompile for X86 as well as ARM and you’ll be able to release it. As far as our strategy is concerned we’re going to be driving this from the Google marketplace. We’re going to use the Intel AppUp program to reach out to developers to start optimizing applications around these new capabilities. 

When it comes to buying a smartphone, will consumers have to have debates about X86 vs ARM?

For the end consumer it’s going to be less about the underlying architecture. It doesn’t really matter. Our objective is to communicate the goodness of Intel Inside. What consumers will care about is the 4-inch high-res touchscreen, the 8 megapixel camera, HDMI… these are the things consumers are going to pay attention to. For example we have the fastest processor, you can multitask in a very efficient manner and there’s also a fast web browsing experience. The gaming experience is much better than what is available in the market. 

Can you talk about Intel’s plans for Medfield phones from the world’s major manufacturers?

At CES, we announced that we’re going to go after one of the other large markets, China. We picked a lead player, Lenovo. We also announced a multi-year worldwide partnership with Motorola, so you should expect products based on our architecture from Motorola later in the year. They will obviously go after volume markets: Western Europe, the U.S, China and India. 

In conclusion, how was your experience at this year’s Mobile World Congress?

I think it’s quite clear that the computing part of the phone business is happening. That’s very evident. Sheer connectivity and the path from 3G to 4G is in its early stages. The initial technology being delivered in mobile form factors for 4G is starting to become real. The third thing has got to do with the whole explosion around applications. And the other takeaway is how hardware intensive the whole smartphone game is becoming in terms of display quality and how performance intensive these products are becoming, and that goes back to my first point as well.

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