Can Intel make an Atom tablet play? Jury is out

Intel has launched its Atom processor designed for tablets, but the jury is still out on whether it can really make headway in the ARM dominated market.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

Intel has launched its Atom processor designed for tablets, but the jury is still out on whether it can really make headway in the market where every vendor is aiming for Apple's iPad.

The news headlines go like this:

  • Oak Trail, the next-gen Atom processor, has 35 design wins with shipments starting in May and continuing through 2011.
  • Intel will develop its Atom chip a clip "faster than Moore's law" to accommodate netbooks, tablets and hybrids.
  • Atom will leverage an OS of choice strategy and work with Google Chrome and Android, MeeGo and Windows.

Is this latest Atom a big deal? Flip a coin because opinions abound. Christopher Dawson argues the pro-Intel case, which revolves around the chipmaker offering OS choice, market heft and supplier clout.

The flip side is that Intel is late to the game and hitting the market with Windows first. Wells Fargo analyst David Wong writes:

While we are think it is a good thing that Intel has finally launched Oak Trail, we view this product as a somewhat late and limited entry into the tablet space. Our guess is that most of the initial tablets on Oak Trail will run the Windows operating system, and that Intel’s first real push into tablets running Android will be towards the end of 2011.

Indeed, Intel's Oak Trail design wins look like a Windows first crowd. Intel cited Fujitsu, Lenovo and Motion Computing as key partners. That trio can supply a lot of Windows tablets. Atom is also designed to hit multiple markets.

If that's the case, Intel-powered Android tablets will come later. Add it up and Intel looks like it will be in the third, maybe fourth wave of Android tablets. By that point, there will be a lot of Qualcomm and Nvidia powered tablets on the market. It will be an ARM-based tablet world. John Morris sums it up:

Oak Trail moves Intel a step closer to becoming a player in mobile devices, but it faces tough competition. In this category Intel is up against a long list of incumbents that design application processors based on the ARM instruction set and architecture including Broadcom, Marvell, Nvidia, Qualcomm and Samsung. It also faces competition from an old x86 rival, AMD, which is apparently finding a home for its low-power C-Series APU (Accelerated processing Unit) in hybrids such as the Acer Iconia W500. There are also rumors that AMD is working on adding support for Android.

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