Intel is holding its annual development conference, IDF 2014, at the moment and the company has launched a new program called Intel Reference Design for Android.
Like the programs offered by its competitors, Intel’s new program will provide compete sets of tablet hardware and a matching Android firmware. Device makers can select one of the designs and have it produced via a 3rd-party.
Intel expects the new program will help device makers to create and ship new tablets while reducing their development costs. The chipmaker is also promising to reduce the ongoing cost of supporting an Android device; any device released through this program will receive firmware updates “within 2 weeks of an AOSP update” for at least two years after it launches.
That could be especially good news for any one who buys one of these tablets; it’s fairly common now for makers of Android tablets (including the better known brands) to adopt a “fire and forget” approach; they’ll launch a tablet and never release an update.
Intel is not the first chipmaker to tread this path, and in fact Intel itself has been down this road before (see their educational tablets, for example). Many CPU makers, including Freescale, Rockchip, Nvidia, Marvell, and Qualcomm, have released reference designs before.
Of the 5 companies listed above, the one best-known for its reference designs is probably Nvidia, which encouraged other companies rebrand the Tegra Note tablet. The most interesting company would be Marvell and the dual-screen devices it enabled, like the Spring Design Alex and the Entourage Edge.
I would describe Rockchip as the most prolific; thanks to their lower costs they’ve gotten their chips into more devices than you can shake a stick at. And as for Qualcomm, I would describe their reference design unit as polished. They’ve produced some very sweet smartphone and tablet designs, and they also created both of the Mirasol screen equipped ereaders which launched in early 2012.