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The death of Intel's Atom casts a dark shadow over the rumored Surface Phone

Mark Hachman | May 2, 2016
Microsoft still reportedly remains committed to Windows 10 Mobile running on ARM chips. And what about the HoloLens?

Intel’s plans to discontinue its Atom chips for phones and some tablets may not have killed the dream of a Microsoft Surface phone—just the piece of it that made it so enticing.

In the wake of a restructuring that relegated the PC to just another connected device, Intel confirmed Friday that it has cancelled its upcoming SoFIA and Broxton chips. That leaves Intel with just one Atom chip, Apollo Lake, which it had slated for convertible tablets.

Microsoft has never formally commented on its future phone plans, save for a leaked email that suggests that Microsoft is committed to the Windows 10 Mobile platform and phones running ARM processors. But fans of the platform have long hoped for a phone that could run native Win32 legacy apps as well as the new UWP platform that Microsoft has made a central platform of Windows 10. The assumption was that this would require a phone running on an Intel Atom processor. Intel’s decision eliminates that option.

Unless Microsoft has some other trick up its sleeve, the most compelling justification for a Win32-based Surface phone appears to have died.

intel brian krzanich mobile world congress 2016 drones 
At Mobile World Congress, Intel CEO Brian Krzanich broke out a drone to show the kinds of devices that Intel would eventually base its company upon. Credit: Shawn Morgan / Intel

Intel gives up on the smartphone

Intel’s decision was first reported by analyst Patrick Moorhead, and confirmed by IDG News Service and PCWorld. Intel told PCWorld that it plans to kill the “Broxton” Atom platform as well as all the flavors of its SoFIA chips, which combined Atom cores with 3G and LTE modems for smartphones. The company said it will continue to support tablets with a 3G derivative of the SoFIA chip, the older Bay Trail and Cherry Trail, as well as some upcoming Core chips.

Microsoft uses a Cherry Trail chip inside of the HoloLens, but it's unclear whether or not that will be affected. 

“I didn’t get the sense that they’re going to exit the tablet space—I felt like there was [a message] of ‘more coming soon,’” Moorhead said. “On the phone stuff, I just don’t think they’ll continue to do that, because, you know, it’s a business.”

Intel said recently that it plans to refocus on the data center, the Internet of Things, memory, 5G modems, and connectivity. To so, Intel will lay off 12,000 workers over the next year or so. But some Atoms apparently fell in the wake of a comprehensive program by Venkata Renduchintala, the new president of a newly created Client and Internet of Things (IoT) Businesses and Systems Architecture Group, to examine the viability of products across Intel’s client businesses. 


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