04/12/11 Intel Tries to Crack Tablet Market

Intel Corp. is launching a new set of chips specifically designed for tablet-style devices as the chip giant aims to make a dent in the fast-moving tablet market, a field now dominated by chip designs licensed by ARM Holdings PLC.

Intel’s latest chips include a new model of its Atom microprocessor and a companion chip that handles extra functions that are needed for tablets, including improved battery life, as well as advances in technology for viewing high-definition video, according to Mark Miller, director of outbound marketing for Intel’s netbook and tablet group.

Intel, which has struggled to match the power consumption advantages of ARM-based chips, also discussed plans to target the market with successor products in 2012 and 2013.

Where the chips introduced Monday for the first time offer 7.5 to 8.5 hours of battery life, the follow-on technology will exploit new manufacturing processes to take battery life to weeks and potentially months, said Mr. Miller. After that point, competition to enhance tablets will shift to being more about computing performance than battery life.

“When that happens it plays much more to Intel’s strengths,” Mr. Miller said.

Intel said its new offering, code-named Oak Trail, has been selected for 35 products, from large companies like Lenovo Group Ltd. and Fujitsu Ltd. as well as lesser-known brands. Mr. Miller said most of those products are business-oriented tablets that run Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system, not the consumer-oriented gadgets typified by Apple Inc.’s hit iPad and new rivals that use Google Inc.’s Android operating system—nearly all of which currently use ARM-based chips.

Oak Trail is being manufacturing on a production process that creates lines of circuitry measured at 45 nanometers, or billionths of a meter. The next two follow-ons will use 32-nanometer and 22-nanometer manufacturing processes, Mr. Miller said, the latest examples of a miniaturization effort that boosts the performance of chip circuitry while reducing its cost.

The Santa Clara, Calif., company on Monday also said it is introducing a 32-nanometer chip in the second half of 2011 that is aimed at the netbook market.

While Oak Trail improves Intel’s position, analysts said the company still faces an uphill struggle. ARM’s technology is offered by a number of licensees—including Qualcomm Inc., Nvidia Corp. and Texas Instruments Inc.—that compete fiercely on price and features. Intel also has no inherent advantage in running applications designed for Android or other popular tablet operating systems, unlike its position in the PC world with Microsoft’s Windows. Another operating system called Meego that Intel is backing suffered a blow when cellphone maker and co-developer Nokia Corp. announced plans to go with Microsoft software.

“MeeGo has taken a bullet,” said Ken Dulaney, an analyst with Gartner. “It’s all about Android, but there are a lot of choices there.”


By Don Clark and Shara Tibken, The Wall Street Journal

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