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Friday, October 24, 2008, 12:00 pm PT (03:00 pm ET)

Intel gets foot in mouth about ARM-twisting iPhone comments

Damage control kicked into overdrive at the world's largest chipmaker this week in the wake of comments from two Intel executives who had a field day badmouthing the iPhone and its embedded ARM processor during a public developer forum, apparently without the company's blessing.

The gaffe prompted Intel's senior vice president Anand Chandrasekher to publish a correction Thursday on his Chip Shots blog over the "inappropriate" comments made by its lower-level executives, who took turns whaling on the iPhone as a device incapable of providing true Internet access due to alleged limitations of its ARM-based microprocessor.

"It's hard to see this as anything other than an formal apology to Apple and ARM for comments made by Intel's Shane Wall and Pankaj Kedia at the company's Intel Developer Forum in Taipei," wrote CNet News.com's Tom Krazit.

"Among other things, the executives resurrected Intel's lame 'ARM chips can't handle the Internet' argument and singled out the iPhone as an example of a smartphone that could be really awesome if it only used one of Intel's low-power x86 architecture processors, known as Atom."

In his correction, Chandrasekher attempted to distance the firm from the executives' remarks and conceded that Atom has a long ways to go before it can attempt to rival the power efficiency and battery life characteristics that ARM chips provide for handheld devices, a key element of the processor architecture's dominate use in over 90 percent of mobile phones worldwide.

He added that his subordinates had no business posturing Intel technology by criticizing the designs of partners, and even went one to praise the iPhone as an "innovative product" that has spawned broad market potential:

Anand Chandrasekher issued a correction on comments made by members of his team yesterday at Intel's Developer Forum in Taiwan. As general manager of the Group responsible for Intel's ultra-mobility products, he acknowledged that Intel's low-power Atom processor does not yet match the battery life characteristics of the ARM processor in a phone form factor; and, that while Intel does have plans on the books to get us to be competitive in the ultra low power domain - we are not there as yet. Secondly, Apple's iPhone offering is an extremely innovative product that enables new and exciting market opportunities. The statements made in Taiwan were inappropriate, and Intel representatives should not have been commenting on specific customer designs.


Unlike rival electronics and PC makers who largely follow Intel's architectural lead, Apple has proven to be remarkably successful at beating to the sound of its own drum. It's resisted Intel's claims that x86 processors represent the clear architectural path to powering the future of mobile computing, and has instead acquired chip designer P.A. Semi to begin work on future generation of ARM-based SOCs for iPhones and iPods that will offer unique advantages, and further distance the company from its peers.


Apple would also like to apologize...


But as CNet's Krazit points out, Intel's apology raises the question of whether, after three years of unfettered cooperation, there's a bit of bad blood brewing between the chipmaker and Apple over differences in their mobile hardware strategies.

In the end, "they'll be fine, although Intel is sleeping on the couch tonight," he wrote. "This week's exercise, however, is an interesting example of how much power Apple wields over one of the most important and historic companies in technology."

Intel is likely to be particularly conscious of its standing with Apple given that the Mac maker has recently replaced the Intel controller chipsets it has used ever since its transition to Intel CPUs in 2006 with a new more powerful controller from NVIDIA in its latest line of top selling MacBooks.