A new fork in the mobile road

Intel Corp. wants to compel what it calls the “mobility user” to try something new with its recent launch of Centrino Mobile Technology, the company’s new mobile processor.

The chip-maker is touting Centrino as more than just a CPU however, and is targeting it to people who want longer battery life, increased wireless accessibility, smaller size and a device that weighs less. Those looking for that are what Intel defines as the mobility user.

In contrast there is the portability user who connects at work, and then again at home. This person wants a small, light desktop, and according to Doug Cooper, Canada country manager for Intel of Canada in Toronto, that person will be sticking with the Pentium for his or her mobile processing needs.

The processor will include a chip set and network connections.

“When Intel introduces a new technology, people associate a brand with a CPU, like Pentium 4 or III, but Centrino is really a collection of electronics that include a CPU – but also includes wireless and support circuitry,” Cooper said. “In order to deliver that form factor value, performance with longer battery life, all those pieces need to work together.

“You can’t do that by working on the CPU alone.”

Acer America Corp. has already launched a Centrino line of notebooks. Trey Tomecek, general manager for Acer Canada in Mississauga, Ont., said the primary battery has a life of approximately five hours, but users can choose to remove an optical drive and put in a second battery, increasing power to eight hours.

Tomecek said weight is becoming an issue for second and third time buyers as well, so Intel’s focus on that is well-timed.

Michelle Warren, an IT industry analyst with Evans Research Corp. in Toronto, said the timing of the release is very good, as many companies have reached the upgrade point after massive Y2K buys, and given that notebook sales are growing faster than desktops.

She also noted that Intel selling Centrino as an ecosystem is appealing “It’s the accessibility, the speeds, the wireless – they are really bringing a total solution,” Warren said.

Centrino’s processing speeds are quick, she said. Notebooks running Centrino have lower gigahertz on the processor than the traditional Pentium 4s would have. Acer’s TravelMate 800 runs at 1.6GHz with 281 minutes of battery life, compared to a Pentium 4 mobile processor at 2GHz and 192 minutes of battery life, according to Acer.

The lower gigahertz number will likely only be a hurdle for the consumer market.

Warren said the enterprise is more likely to have the “techies” doing the purchasing, or finance people with a good working knowledge of products, and they will be quick to see the benefits.

Cooper said he sees Centrino slowly sapping market share away from the Pentium market, and competitiors with processors, such as AMD’s Athlon, Via’s Cyrix chip and Transmeta’s Crusoe. Intel sees the wants of the mobility user and the portability user continuing parallel for some time, he said, but the expectation is that more people will gravitate to the mobility, and thus Centrino.

“You’ll see people who start out as a portability user, on a Pentium 4, will gravitate too, because they will be carrying their notebook around more and more and will become more dependent on it.”

This Cooper said will lead them to want different things out of their mobile devices.

“Weight will become more of an issue, or the battery life isn’t what they would like. They want to be able to use it where the customers are, and not just in the office,” Cooper said. At that point wireless accessibility becomes an issue. Intel is working with hotspots to ensure continual wireless access.

Warren said the hype Intel has created for Centrino has been very organized and following the trends of the mobility market, such as hotspots.