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Wintel for the Smartphone Crowd November 14, 2010

Posted by Peter Varhol in Software tools.

Wintel is the mashup term for the duopoly of Windows and Intel, dominant for so many years of desktop computing.  While it happened largely by accident, Intel processors and Microsoft Windows operating systems employed a loose partnership that powered a very high percentage of computers using the PC-standard architecture.

This article postulates a similar duopoly of Qualcomm and Android.  Qualcomm is a principal maker of CDMA chipsets for phones (the alternative is GSM, used by much of the rest of the world), while Google’s Android is an open source operating system for phones and perhaps tablets and other small form factor devices.

At first the comparison seems lame.  Phones use a variety of different processors, none of which are made by Qualcomm.  The communication chipsets may or may not have the same impact as the processor.  They don’t drive application compatibility, so I would argue that they aren’t as important as the CPU.

Further, Europe and Asia are not going to convert to CDMA, so this partnership will not become a global standard.  It really only applies to the US, and more specifically to the Verizon network (my own carrier, US Cellular, is also CDMA, and makes use of much of the Verizon network, so my phone is also CDMA).

But to someone who was there in the early days of the Wintel story, the parallels seem more apparent.  Up until the mid-1990s, it was by no means assured that Wintel would be as dominant as it was.  Unix (not Linux until later) was the only high-end desktop operating system, and Alpha, MIPS, and POWER processors were for those who needed the horsepower that Intel couldn’t provide.  It’s worthwhile noting that when Microsoft introduced Windows NT in 1993, it included versions for both Alpha and MIPS (as well as Intel x86 and the i860 processor).

Because of the different communication standards used, and the massive amounts of infrastructure needed to support those standards, it seems unlikely that Qualcomm and Android can achieve anywhere near the dominance of Wintel.  But the fact that the question is being asked says a great deal about how the phone continues to become the next dominant platform.



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