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Intel courts China's hardware startups to popularise its mobile, IoT chips

Michael Kan | April 9, 2015
In the battle for chip supremacy, the U.S. tech giant has been trying to dig deep into China's hardware industry, and ensure that not just big vendors use its technology, but small emerging players too.

This has involved finding partners that know the Chinese industry. Last year, it struck a deal with Rockchip, a local maker of ARM-based processors, to jointly develop an Intel-based Atom chip for tablets. The Atom X3 processor goes into production this month, and over 45 tablet, smartphone designs are already being developed around it.

"Mobile, we are coming," said Rockchip's CEO Min Li at Intel's developer conference.

A year ago, Intel also announced it would spend $100 million to fund Chinese product development in convertible laptops, tablets, smartphones and wearables. About $37 million of those funds have already been used, with some going to a Chinese Android ROM developer called Lewa, and iris-recognition developer EyeSmart Technology.

"We are not the only company that innovates," said Doug Fisher, an Intel senior vice president, in a press conference. "And so it's important for us to plant a lot of seeds, and let a thousand flowers bloom, and try and harvest the most precious of those."

Intel's efforts include its Edison development platform, which involves helping entrepreneurs build connected devices around its Edison chip.

Liu, the CEO of the finger vein scanner startup, became involved with the Edison platform through a competition Intel sponsored. Liu's company is developing finger vein recognition software that can be used in banks or hospitals to identify users.

The company, however, also wanted to come out with some consumer-facing hardware, so it developed a prototype finger vein reader with Intel's Edison chip.

"The Edison support has been timely, and fast. In two or three weeks we've been able to complete the concept, and move it to hardware," Liu said. To help his startup and others, Intel has also recruited manufacturers and Chinese Internet firms to potentially assemble and distribute the products.

Liu said he could have chosen chips from Qualcomm, but said Intel's Edison processor was better designed to run his finger-vein reading services. Intel has also been quick to answer any technical questions, through its website, over the phone and via messaging apps.

The support has helped promote Liu's company. "We were just established, our brand awareness and product still needs work, but Intel has been there to help us compensate," he said.

 

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