Atom-powered iPhone, the sequel

June 27, 2008, 3:08 PM UTC

Remember the fuss stirred up last month when an Intel exec talked about a future iPhone that would be powered by one of Intel’s Atom chips? (See Anatomy of a Rumor: The Atom-powered Newton iPhone.)

What gave the rumor legs — and generated more than a dozen headlines on Techmeme — was the kind of iPhone that the Atom was alleged to be powering: a mini-tablet device like the ill-fated Apple Newton.

Well, the story is back, but this time in a form that makes more sense — and may shed light on what that Intel exec was really talking about in May.

On Thursday, JoAnne Feeney, an analyst with FTN Midwest, reported in a note to clients that the next generation of iPhones will in fact be powered by one of the CPUs in the Intel Atom line — a class of microprocessors designed for use in ultra-mobile PCs, smart phones and other portable and low-power applications.

As Barron’s Eric Savitz helpfully notes, Feeney is not talking about the iPhone 3G set to go on sale July 11. That one is still powered, as far as anyone outside Apple or Hon Hai knows, by the same Samsung ARM that drives the 2G model. She’s talking about a new and presumably better iPhone, due to arrive in 2009 or maybe 2010.

Neither Feeney or Savitz say anything about a mini-tablet.

Neither, for that matter, did Intel Germany CEO Hannes Schwaderer, speaking at an Intel event on May 14. Here’s the passage that set off last month’s rumors, as reported by and translated by MacRumors:

“As part of an Intel event for the 40th birthday of the semiconductor company at Munich’s BMW World, Germany managing director Hannes Schwaderer confirmed today what has long been a rumor on the Internet: namely, that there is an iPhone with Intel’s new Atom chip. The device is slightly larger than the current version, Schwaderer said. That is not, however, because of the Intel chip, but because of the larger display used in the new iPhone.” (link)

Intel later denied that Schwaderer mentioned a larger display — or said anything about any future Apple (AAPL) products, for that matter.

Which makes a next-generation Atom-powered iPhone important news for Intel (INTC) and, presumably, Samsung (SSUN.F). But for the rest of us, not so much.