How Intel plans to thrive in a post-PC world

May 11, 2010: 2:17 PM ET

Paul Otellini, Intel's CEO, says revenue and earnings growth are poised to double. How? By going after every gadget on earth.

Intel's Atom chip is driving growth

Facing a burgeoning market for all manner of computing, from notebooks to smartphones, tablets and even cars, Intel (INTC) CEO Paul Otellini projected Tuesday that both earnings and revenue would grow in "the low double digits over the next few years."  Current growth rates are roughly half that. When asked to segment that growth by product category Otellini laughed, "We've already gone out as far on a limb as we ever have, I'm not going to go any further."

One of the key messages that Otellini wanted to deliver to a crowd of financial analysts gathered in Santa Clara, Calif. is that Intel is pushing well beyond its core microprocessor manufacturing business, to software and services. "Don't think of us as a chip company anymore," Otellini says. "We are a computing company."

Intel CEO Paul Otellini

As opposed to the birth and growth of the PC industry that Intel pioneered and benefited hugely from, it takes more than just providing chips to transform an industry today, Otellini says. It also requires an infrastructure of software applications and services to enable wireless carriers, consumer electronics manufacturers and car companies to bring increasingly sophisticated computing into those businesses.

In the coming years, there will be a lot of activity from Intel in the software arena Otellini says, where 22% of Intel employees are already focused. "This is not pro-bono, we want to get paid for this," he says. "It's not just to get silicon wins, and it will be a real source of revenue.

"You have to have all the layers, it's not just a silicon play anymore," Otellini says. "And by the way, if you want to compete (with us) you have to have all the layers too."

With the money and muscle to provide all those layers, Otellini not only thinks Intel can distance itself from other chip makers -- AMD (AMD), TSMC and others -- but can offer the kind of growth that gets investors excited. "It's easy to look at Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOG) and see they are growing," Otellini says. "But Intel has a unique set of attributes that no one can replicate."

While the PC industry has long been seen as mature, Otellini points out that its ability to reinvent itself and expand into markets around the world -- especially China, India, and Brazil -- has kept it growing nicely. And the Internet, especially video, is driving it all.

"Desktop growth is nothing to write home about," Otellini says, "but we are projecting 22% growth in notebooks annually through 2014. Intel projects netbooks will grow 15%, and tablet computers will grow 73% to 88% during the same period.

As for the tablet category, Otellini says it will be a small niche, selling 60 million units a year on the high end of projections by 2014. "In terms of the scale of the PC industry it's relatively insignificant," he says.  "Tablets like netbooks are additive. They are good for computing overall, and they are probably good for Intel long term, but I don't think they will take market share away from other devices."

The big opportunity for Intel is to put its chips and related software into all kinds of "smart" devices, places where computing hasn't typically been found. That will be your television, your power-meter, and your washing machine. "These markets are going to explode," Otellini says. "They are all existing businesses, but they are going to be transformed by the microprocessor, by being connected to the Internet and by the server in the sky."

If Otellini is right, Intel's business is about to explode as well.

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Michael Copeland
Michael Copeland

Michael V. Copeland joined FORTUNE as a senior writer in September 2007. Copeland has covered everything from electric cars to e-readers. He is a creator of Tech Mate, an irreverent video series in which he debates (and skewers) digital issues of the day. Before joining FORTUNE, Copeland was a senior writer at Business 2.0. Copeland graduated from the University of Pennsylvania.

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