Intel pays $1.4b to catch up on smartphones
Acquires maker of iPhone chips
SAN FRANCISCO — As the world’s biggest maker of computer chips, Intel Corp. can’t afford to ignore its huge blind spot in mobile phones.
Eighty percent of today’s personal computers use Intel processors. But Intel is absent in smartphones, which are threatening PCs as gateways to the Internet. One reason is that Intel still doesn’t have good ways to design chips to use less power, so Intel’s products drain batteries more quickly — something smartphone makers won’t tolerate.
The dynamic has put Intel at risk of missing out on the next great opportunity for semiconductor companies. That is why Intel has decided to buy the wireless-chip division of Germany’s Infineon Technologies AG for $1.4 billion. With it, Intel gets the chips used in Apple Inc.’s popular iPhone.
The all-cash deal, announced yesterday, is an acknowledgment that Intel has missed the boat on mobile phones, and it gives the company an opportunity to correct its course.
The challenge is similar to the one Microsoft Corp. is facing with Google Inc. as software is increasingly being delivered over the Internet instead of being stored on PCs, the way Microsoft has long approached it. Like Microsoft, Intel is the undisputed leader in a market that’s under attack from a fast-rising force from the outside.
Intel is trying to play catch-up before it falls too far behind.
Intel bought mobile software maker Wind River Systems for $884 million last summer, and the company has spearheaded development of the open-source Moblin software, designed to run on mobile devices that use Intel chips.
Two weeks ago, it announced plans to buy computer-security software maker McAfee Inc. for $7.68 billion, which would be the biggest acquisition in Intel’s 42-year history once it gains the expected approvals.
With McAfee, Intel would be able to bake security into its mobile chips, including those from Infineon.
But even as Infineon’s products give Intel quick entry into the mobile-chip business, Intel is fighting its own history with the Infineon deal, which could prove to be a costly distraction.
Many analysts aren’t optimistic about Intel’s chances, pointing to its spotty track record with acquisitions. “We feel like we have seen this movie before,’’ analyst Craig Berger with FBR Capital Markets wrote in a research note to investors.
Berger said Intel would gain a strong business with a “sizable presence’’ among big cellphone makers and the expertise in building chips based on a low-power design that is widely used in cellphones. However, he said he is skeptical of Intel’s ability to execute outside of its core market.