Intel and Nokia will partner on mobile Linux, but maybe not on Atom

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As it turns out, Bloomberg News' source this morning on Intel's and Nokia's major news was kinda right, kinda not. In a morning press teleconference, Intel's Ultra Mobility Group SVP Anand Chandrasekher and Nokia Executive Vice President for Devices Dr. Kai Öistämö announced their two companies are jointly licensing critical technologies to one another, for the purposes of building platforms.

Now, those platforms could lead to Atom-based Nokia mobile devices, but the keyword here is "could." Through a barrage of questioning from press and analysts on this topic, Öistämö and Chandrasekher would only repeat that their companies will collaborate on their respective mobile Linux platforms -- Intel with Nokia's Maemo, Nokia with Intel's Moblin. But neither party would not say the collaboration would necessarily lead to any kind of Linux platform whatsoever that bears the opposite partner's brand, or is carried on the opposite partner's equipment.

All the two parties did agree to say was that something would culminate from the companies' joint research -- a culmination which Nokia's Öistämö would only describe as an "action" which would provide to their customers an "experience."

"The multi-year collaboration is already under way, and will continue with a joint R&D effort covering many, many important fields of research," said Öistämö. "And let's not get hung up on our terminology, here. Suffice it to say that we plan to turn our joint research into concrete action as well. Together, we will leverage each company's expertise as we define a new, open standard mobile computing platform. We will believe that this will allow us to create an entirely new category of devices, far beyond today's smartphones, MIDs, notebooks, netbooks, whatever you call them."

Today, Moblin is being developed as the Linux of choice for Atom processor-based systems, of which there are currently none that bear the Nokia trademark. And as of now, the most prominent device to include Maemo is Nokia's N810 Internet tablet, a device which could have run Symbian instead. The N810 was introduced in October 2007, though a recent upgrade enables it to support WiMAX.

WiMAX is Intel's brainchild; and on the opposite side of the pond, HSPA is one of the jewels in Nokia's technology portfolio. Today's agreement sees Nokia licensing 3G technology to Intel, and a possible thaw in Nokia's recent distaste for WiMAX, which was reiterated just last April.

"Intel...will be licensing HSPA 3G modem technologies from Nokia," said Chandrasekher, "with the aim of developing future mobile computing solutions that will offer our customers a powerful and flexible mobile computing experience. These will complement Intel's Wi-Fi and WiMAX technologies, and will allow us to deliver broadband wireless communications technologies, and delight end users with an always-connected experience. This license will allow Intel to extend chipset solutions into the future."

When pressed further about what specific products this agreement may enable either company to produce, Chandrasekher reiterated, "This is about a strategic relationship between our two companies. It spans three elements: We're going to work together on [an] Intel Architecture [x86] definition and chipset for future mobile computing devices; we're going to work together on technology cooperation on Moblin and Maemo so we can deliver a very rich software environment for applications and for end users to experience; and...we're going to take a license from Nokia for their 3G HSPA technology to be able to build future products."

So today's announcement was interesting for what we did not learn coming away from it: We do not know whether Moblin and Maemo would be merged to become one system, though we can assume that they won't. Moblin may gain the ability to support 3G on forthcoming Atom-based mobile computers, which Intel will probably decline to call "netbooks." We don't know what Nokia will call them. We don't know whether Intel's contribution to Maemo, if there is one, will be credited; as Nokia's Öistämö put it, "There is no kind of tight coupling on any specific hardware and specific software as such." We don't know whether the agreement will put Nokia a few steps ahead in adopting WiMAX, and we don't know -- as Öistämö made clear (or unclear) -- whether the agreement will change Nokia's marketing position for LTE, which had been its 4G technology of choice over WiMAX.

But we can say that any effort to bring Atom processors to Nokia-branded netbooks must begin with this critical step. Given Nokia's history with its own roadmaps, however, the existence of an Atom in Nokia's future certainly cannot be proclaimed inevitable.

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