Intel President: Why we missed the mobile revolution

July 14, 2014, 11:44 PM UTC
Photograph by Kevin Moloney/Fortune Brainstorm TECH

Intel President Renee James is frank on why the chip-maker didn’t catch onto mobile earlier on.

“We were very successful, but success can breed complacency and fear,” explained James in a conversation with Fortune’s Michal Lev-Ram at Brainstorm Tech 2014. Where Intel (INTC) also failed was identifying mobile devices like the iPhone, launched in 2007, as technology good enough for consumers to check email, watch video, perform other general tasks and otherwise enjoy many of the features offered by desktop computers and laptops. Added James: “We didn’t appreciate that the iPhone was the advent of mobile and ultra mobile computing.”

Intel is trying its best to catch up. To that end, the company has announced it wants its mobile chips to power 40 million new tablets shipping this year. That’s an ambitious goal, given the vast majority of current smartphones and tablets – iPhones, iPads and Android devices – already run on parts designed by competition such as Qualcomm and ARM. And few consumers seem to complain about how they perform.

But again, James would argue Intel isn’t too late. “We have had not had the best technology in mobile – we think we do now,” explained James. Intel is focusing on China and other fast-growing markets. This May, it announced an agreement with Chinese mobile chipmaker Rockchip to develop chips together for affordable tablets running off Android.

If anyone has a good shot at transforming Intel into a serious competitor in mobile, it’s someone like James. James, who became president in May 2013, remains the highest-ranked woman at Intel during its 40-year-plus history. Prior to becoming president, James led Intel’s expansion into developing open-source software and services for enterprise, security and cloud computing. She also was director and COO of Intel’s datacenter services business and served as technical assistant to former Intel CEO Andy Grove for four years. In 2013, James ranked #27 on Fortune’s Most Powerful Women list.

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