Intel's Medfield sows seeds in world's most important mobile market

Intel has announced its first Android smartphone shipping with Intel inside. The target market is India, which should be no surprise.

Intel announced a partnership with Indian handset maker Lava at this year’s Mobile World Congress. Lava is being touted by Intel as one of the fastest growing handset companies in the country. The phone runs on a 1.6 GHz Atom processor, with a 400 MHz graphics clock and running 1080p HD video encoding and playback.  It runs on Android’s Gingerbread with a promised upgrade to Ice Cream Sandwich later in the year, and will be generally available at retailers in India early May.

The news that Intel would launch the Xolo X900 smartphone this week was not exactly kept quiet. Some critics, though, will wonder why India has become the first market where Intel is trying to stamp its brand.

There will be a range of reasons for this – not to mention the immense size of India’s quickly swelling economy – but the most striking is that the victor in the country’s smartphone market has not yet been decided.

While in Europe and the USA, iOS and Android devices from other chipmakers are, by far, dominating the high-end smartphone range, there are large gains to be made in placing a stamp on high value emerging economies. Intel knows this, and it wants to get its brand out there – it wants to be known as a trusted brand for mobile devices where, if trends continue, over the next five years there will be the most opportunity.

Last year, Intel signed a deal with Tencent Holdings in China to partner on a joint research centre, which would specifically develop technologies for the tablet and mobile sectors. The market is a different beast from in the West. There are native mobile companies which are already trusted.

Although Apple is popular its products are expensive and, largely, Chinese handset makers rule the roost. China’s largest device maker, ZTE, has reportedly been in talks with Intel about using Atom. Intel executive had been talking to users on Chinese social network Sina Weibo earlier this month, claiming that Intel is in it to win it specifically in the Chinese market. Maloney claimed the company is making a lot of progress in that regard, including with Medfield.

India is a different market but, similarly, it is booming. Earlier this week we reported on Blackberry gunning to take a slice of the smartphone market with the cheap-as-chips Curve 9220 for 10,900 Rs, or roughly $210. A shift is happening in the country right now: as Nokia’s latest results show, the feature phone, traditionally popular for the longevity of its battery and for the price, is starting to lose ground. Higher end devices like Intel’s Xolo will find their market, costing 22,000 Rs ($422), roughly twice the price of RIM’s offering.

Still, it’s very unlikely other chip makers are blind to the enormous money making opportunities in India and China. We have no doubt ARM licensees, such as Qualcomm, will be fighting for their part of the market. Considering the weight of Intel’s wallet, if it is determined, there will be a fierce fight for the quickly growing economies.