Intel confirms using ARM-based chip core in smartwatch it demoed at CES

Long battle against ARM continues as Intel starts promoting its power-saving Quark processor

For years, Intel has been battling to replace ARM-based chips used in smartphones and other mobile devices. Now it has partly succumbed to the low-power ARM approach.

In a keynote address at International CES on Jan. 6, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich showed off prototype wearable technology products, including a smartwatch design.

Even though the unnamed smartwatch prototype was used to describe ways that Intel technology can provide geo-fencing and other capabilities, it partly relied upon ARM-based technology, an Intel spokeswoman confirmed to Computerworld on Tuesday.

The smartwatch shown during the keynote used an Intel SoC (System on a chip) that had an ARM chip core inside, said spokeswoman Claudine Mangano in a telephone interview today.

Despite reports that Intel used ARM technology in other wearables it demonstrated during the keynote, "the only thing that had an ARM solution during the demos was the smartwatch," Mangano said.

She acknowledged that some "third-party product silicon" was used in other prototypes demonstrated. That technology was used in prototype microprocessors and other components. Mangano didn't identify the third parties involoved or in what products the technology was used.

She called incorrect a report vy PCMag.com that a Jarvis headset shown in the keynote used ARM. The Jarvis product did not use ARM technology, she insisted to Computerworld. PCMag.com cited unidentified sources.

PCMag.com had first reported that another Intel spokesman acknowledged that some of the reference chip designs used contained third party parts, but did not identify ARM. Later reports said that ARM technology was used in more than one prototype, but Mangano today said that ARM tech was only used inside the smartwatch.

"We haven't announced plans for the smartwatch," she said. "It was a tech demo, a prototype to show things such as geo-fencing."

A pair of smart earbuds used for fitness monitoring that were shown in the keynote used non-Intel circuits, Intel admitted separately to PCMag.com.

Intel holds an ARM architecture license and Intel spokesman Bill Calder told PC Mag: "Would we use third-party technology to get an exciting new reference design out there in front of people? Sure, but I wouldn't read too much into that."

The first Intel Centrino chips used years ago in laptop computers didn't work off Intel's own wireless chip until later generations, both Calder and Mangano noted. Mangano said that approach might be the same for the smartwatch.

Calder also criticized ARM technology, calling it a "powered-down, lower performing chip for a reference design."

Intel has shown a greater willingness lately to try new approaches to promote its mobile chips as the desktop computer market declines and mobile device sales soar. Wearable devices, including smartwatches and health monitoring products, were a big theme at CES.

Intel's has based its mobile future on its own Atom line of low-power processors, which continue struggle against ARM chips, which are used today by virtually all smartphone makers and most tablet makers.

At its CES keynote, Intel showed off an internally-developed power-saving processor called Quark used inside of a small computer called Edison. It is expected to be formally launched in mid-year, Mangano said.

Intel has also been promoting Atom for more tablets by paying tablet makers to use its chips. The company covers the cost of using its Bay Trail chips instead of ARM-based processors, and covers the engineering costs of designing an Intel tablet.

Intel has set a goal of getting Atom chips inside of 40 million tablets in 2014, up from about 10 million in 2013. The promotion was disclosed by Intel last November.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at @matthamblen, or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed . His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

mhamblen@computerworld.com.

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This story, "Intel confirms using ARM-based chip core in smartwatch it demoed at CES" was originally published by Computerworld.

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