At this year’s Mobile World Congress trade show in Barcelona, smartphone developments were widely anticipated, and have pretty much lived up to the billing. But the biggest news so far is something of a surprise: Intel (NASDAQ:INTC) has announced that France Telecom (NYSE:FTE) will be selling Intel-designed and -powered smartphones in France and the U.K. this summer, under the brand of France Telecom’s Orange mobile division.
The handsets will be manufactured by Gigabyte, a Taiwanese manufacturer, and will run Google‘s (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android operating system, with the Intel logo displayed on the back.
This was just the most important of a series of moves from the giant chipmaker this week. Intel also introduced several new industry partnerships and confirmed the rollout of the first of its new smartphones powered by its Medfield system-on-chip. CNET reports Intel has agreements in place with handset makers ZTE and Lava International to introduce Intel-powered phones in China and India, respectively, in the second half of 2012.
Intel has been touting the Medfield system recently as its entry into the mobile field. At January’s International Consumer Electronics Show, it had announced partnerships with Lenovo (PINK:LNVGY) and Motorola (NYSE:MMI).
Engadget was able to test one of the upcoming Intel/Orange phones. According to the review site, the new phone was running a several-year-old version of Android (although it noted that Intel has been running the latest Android 4.0 release in testing), hardware specs were middling and build quality was well below the level of current high-end smartphones.
Still, the device did run Android games — showing that an Intel processor doesn’t mean incompatibility– and this particular model is being released as a budget offering, rather than as a rival to higher-priced, premium models from the likes of Apple (NASDAQ:AAPL) or Samsung (PINK:SSNLF).
The Orange phone seems to put to rest any concerns that Intel’s chips might mean slower performance for Android apps running in emulation and that they wouldn’t be produced at a competitive price. The only question remaining is battery life. Confirmation of Intel’s claims that it’s competitive will likely wait until the Orange smartphones are commercially available.
With the Orange announcement and the partnerships that will see Medfield chips powering phones in China (the world’s largest smartphone market) and India (one of the fastest growing mobile markets), it seems as though Intel is poised to make up for a lost decade when it comes to powering mobile technology.