Freescale to use Android, ARM for $100 Netbook

Chip maker Freescale has announced that it will use Google's Android operating system for a new type of Netbook by next quarter.Though Google's Android software was originally developed for smartphones, Freescale believes it can use the flexible OS to make a new class of less-expensive mini-notebooks and Netbooks.

Chip maker Freescale has announced that it will use Google's Android operating system for a new type of Netbook by next quarter.

Though Google's Android software was originally developed for smartphones, Freescale believes it can use the flexible OS to make a new class of less-expensive mini-notebooks and Netbooks.

The privately held company, spun off from Motorola in 2004, will also collaborate with wireless technology companies Wavecom and Option to make higher-end Netbooks offering faster, third-generation connections.

Freescale, which competes with wireless chip giants Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, says it can connect its chips to the computer's memory far more cheaply.

The company expects the amount of Netbooks sold this year -- already an explosive amount of growth -- to double to about 30 million. (Mobile research firm ABI Research has a higher forecast of 35 million.)

Most of the Netbooks in the company's target markets are aimed at "casual, young users in the West" and ship with only Wi-Fi connectivity.

"For price reasons, the netbooks are going to primarily be shipped with just Wi-Fi. For mobile professional users, you do need 3G connectivity," Glen Burchers, marketing director for Freescale's consumer business, told Reuters.

In addition to Google Android, Freescale will also support third-generation operating systems from Phoenix Technologies and Xandros starting next quarter, the company said at Mobile World Congress.

Without doubt, the Netbook market is shaping up as a battleground for Intel's Atom processors -- which currently have the market to themselves -- and chips based on designs from Britain's ARM.

Freescale has chosen ARM, saying ARM-based processors have battery life of about eight hours -- four times as long as Atom -- less heat generation, eliminating the need for fans, and cheaper prices.

Freescale's Burchers said he believed that ARM could eventually capture half the world's Netbook chip market. (The first ARM-based Netbooks are coming to market this summer.)

Freescale designs its netbook chips for free software operating systems such as Ubuntu, saving manufacturers the cost of license fees for Microsoft Windows, it said.

"I think for developed countries you'll see good, better and best. I believe the good and better will be based on ARM. I believe the best will be Atom-based and will still run Windows, because you can do more with it," Burchers told Reuters.

Freescale believes Netbooks built around its technology will be able to be made at a cost of about $100, half the price of the lowest-priced of the current crop of Netbooks. That could translate to a retail price of under $200, a Freescale spokesman said.

Freescale said it is talking to Indian technology firm Encore Software, which is reported to be planning to supply millions of ultra-cheap Netbooks to India's government as part of an education program.

"We quickly rushed down there, found who they were and are now engaged with them," said Burchers, when asked about media reports of an Indian government project to supply netbooks for as little as $100. "I do think it's a huge potential market."

Best part of all? Freescale's Burchers noted that Netbooks were truly unnecessary yet an irresistible bargain:

Asked about what kind of consumer would buy netbooks in economically hard times, Burchers said: "Nobody needs this stuff but they want it, everybody wants it. And at the price point of $199, it's a great Christmas present or birthday present."