The words “Intel” and “Android” haven’t always been synonymous with one another, but Intel’s hoping to change that. The Dell Venue 8 7000, which uses and Intel CPU and showcases the Intel RealSense camera technology, is one of the first examples of this renewed effort, but it’s just a glimpse at what’s to come.
In an effort to get a bit more perspective on Intel’s future as an Android player, we talked to Alexis Crowell, the director of open source software and marketing at Intel. Crowell couldn’t speak too openly about Intel’s plans for the future, but she did offer a bit of insight on how Intel sees itself as player in the open source space. And as a bonus, she’s a seasoned Android user herself.
Greenbot: Let’s start off with the loaded question: Is Intel really interested in Android? It’s spent so much time in the Windows world, and though it’s dipped its toes in the Android pool here and there, it never felt like it was truly committed to this particular market. Why now?
Crowell: That’s a fair question. The reason my team exists is, quite honestly, for people to understand what we’re trying to do on Android and why.
But I do want to back up a minute. What we’re also really trying to do is get the word out about what we’re doing with software in general. Intel has actually been an open source leader for the last 20 years. We contribute across all of the major projects, we’re a top contributor to Android and have been for the last few years, and have helped develop the last few major components—Android L and the ART Android runtime—and a lot of that was done at Intel in collaboration with Google.
We have a huge team dedicated to ensuring Android runs flawlessly, seamlessly, and as best as possible on top of Intel architecture. It’s something we’re trying to start talking about more and more. We didn’t have a massive foothold a few years ago in terms of silicon footprint, but now we do—we shipped 40 million tablets last year and the bulk of those were Android.
Greenbot: What percentage of those 40 million tablets that shipped last year were Android tablets?
Crowell: We’re not disclosing exact splits, but as you can see in the market, Android has taken off in terms of tablet marketshare. We’re pretty consistent with that. It was definitely over the majority.
Greenbot: Okay, well let’s circle back to the original question: why the huge push for Android all of a sudden?
Crowell: Our philosophy as a corporation is to ensure that our customers [other manufacturers who ship products with Intel processors] can ship whatever operating system they want with our silicon so that the end-users—whether that’s business users, consumers, or educators—can have a fantastic experience.
As Android started to pick up, we were already involved in the Linux kernel—it was a space that we really knew. As our customers grew in their desire to work with it, we grew our presence by working directly with those OEMs in terms of building designs, as well as the ecosystem. We spent a lot of time with independent software vendors giving them tools…to ensure that the coding process is easier and that apps can take advantage of the new hardware features we’re shipping. All of that started to culminate in the last three to four years in terms of where the momentum really picked up.
Greenbot: So then, what’s the strategy to try to get more Android users to see Intel as a desirable brand?
Crowell: There’s actually a full campaign that’s taking about the benefits of Intel Atom processors in tablets. That really kicked off last year as the tablet designs ramped up, and you’ll see more and more of that coming. Part of that campaign, too, is an awareness [of Intel-based tablets] that hasn’t really happened in the tablet market until now.
Greenbot: Why would someone choose an Intel-based tablet versus one with another processor?
Crowell: The number of designs and the ability to choose different sensors…is exponential in this space, which makes it really fun because then the innovation can completely take off. However, it also makes it difficult from the perspective of fully integrating the silicon all the way to the industrial design. It takes people who are dedicated to make sure each one of those layers are working together really effectively.
In Android, there’s no one vertical player. Once you get out into the multinational corporations across the OEMs and ODMs, and you look at China and small manufacturers that are taking off with some of their designs, there are parts that are a little more disparate in how they’re put together. What that means is that can lead to an experience that is less than ideal. So what we do—and what we pride ourselves on as a corporation—is working with every single level to get that integration as tight as we can.
Our software experience is really what sets it apart. We realize that we have fantastic performance, our battery life is comparable, our graphics are stunning, and we have things like RealSense that doesn’t exist in some of the other tablets.
Greenbot: Can you give us a quick rundown of what Intel’s trying to accomplish with RealSense?
Crowell: I can give you the high level.
There’s a couple of things with RealSense. The world is becoming so much more virtual in terms of what people are demanding out of their devices, whether it’s their phone, their tablet, their laptop, or whatever, and having the kind of camera [that can do what RealSense does] can help make that interaction much more real.
Greenbot: But why not put this technology in a smartphone, where camera use is far more prevalent?
Crowell: It’s the place to start for us. I’m excited about what it opens up from an opportunity perspective.
Greenbot: So, are you an Android user?
Crowell: I am. I can’t run an open source team and not use Android! I’ve been using it for two-and-a-half years. I’ve used them all. I was even a Windows Phone user at one point. I’m a big believer that you need to understand what’s out there.
Greenbot: What are you using now?
Crowell: I currently have three devices that I go back and forth with. I’ve got a Nexus 6, the OnePlus One, and a Samsung Galaxy S4. I’m kind of embarrassed to say that, but I’m completely hooked to the case that I have.
Greenbot: What is one app you absolutely can’t live without?
Crowell: My go-to is Evernote. It’s the one app that keeps me completely sane, though I actually recently picked up Rock My Run—it’s one of my new favorites