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By | Faultline 19th December 2010 08:30

Intel claims 35 Atom tablets about to hit the market

As Nvidia may have netted Samsung

Intel sees tablets as a strong route for its Atom processor, into the mobile device market, because of the need for high performance and the similarities to PC functionality.

However, the first commercial tablets, such as iPad and Galaxy Tab, have run on ARM-based chips, and indeed, both of these processors come from Intel‘s next biggest silicon rival, Samsung Electronics. This puts the pressure on the market leader to accelerate its efforts for 2011 tablets, and CEO Paul Otellini is bullish about its prospects – even as another mobile challenger from the PC space, Nvidia, is reported to have ousted Samsung Electronics from some slots at its own handset sister firm, and powers the world‘s first dual-core smartphone, from LG.

"The consumer [tablet] products will roll out over the first half of next year," Otellini told analysts at a conference, according to a Reuters report. Intel chips will turn up in 35 tablets from 15 brands, many from well established PC customers such as Dell, Asus, Lenovo and Toshiba, he said. But with the form factor initially dominated by smartphone chip stalwarts like Samsung and Qualcomm, as well as the emerging Nvidia, he admitted the pursuit of the mobile market would be "a marathon, not a sprint."

He expects Atom-based tablets to run a variety of operating systems, including the Intel/Nokia platform MeeGo, Android and Windows. On a slide presented at a Barclays Capital event, he listed the big PC brands, but also the MeeGo pioneer WeTab, and, interestingly, AT&T. Carriers have expressed interest in commissioning own-branded tablets, and a few, notably Australia‘s Telstra, have already launched one. Verizon is expected to offer one or more devices in this form to integrate content across its mobile and FiOS IPTV networks. Acer and WeTab are expected to be the first to ship MeeGo tablets, while the Android devices will support a mixture of the new 2.3 release and the upcoming version 3.0, which will be fully adapted to large screens.

For Windows, there will be two lines of Atom chips Oak Trail, for PC compatible devices that allow for connectivity to peripherals such as printers, and Moorestown, which is the first Atom suited to smartphones and will support better battery life, but not external connectivity. Otellini added that the second generation smartphone processor, Medfield, is now being sampled by customers and should ship next year. "You will see smartphones from premier branded vendors in the second half of 2011 with Intel silicon inside them," he said.

Nvidia wins slots for Tegra2

Meanwhile, after two years trying to get its head above the mobile parapet, Nvidia is making real headway with its new Tegra2 dual-core processor. Now it has gained its biggest win to date, and one that could propel it firmly onto Qualcomm‘s radar, with a sizeable order from Samsung reported by Citigroup.

If the firm‘s analyst Glen Yeung is correct in his latest research note, Nvidia could have added Samsung to orders from LG and several PC makers, as Tegra2 shines in the emerging tablet market. The original Tegra gained limited uptake, though it was the basis of Microsoft‘s Zune HD player, but the dual-core successor offers video and graphics capabilities that put it alongside the big guns.

Yeung writes that Samsung has "placed a sizeable order with Nvidia for Tegra2 chips in the first half of 2011, geared for both tablets and smartphones." Such a deal could be worth between $250m and $350m, though neither company would comment. It could also put pressure on Qualcomm, traditionally Samsung‘s major supplier, which is now sharing processor business with various rivals, and even losing some baseband slots to competitors like Broadcom.

If Tegra2 does get into upcoming Samsung devices, it would also be a blow to the handset maker‘s own sister firm, Samsung Electronics, which provides its Hummingbird mobile processor for flagship products like Galaxy S and has its own multicore roadmap based on the forthcoming Orion model.

The phonemaker, which has sometimes been notoriously wary about buying from its own stablemate, may be keen not to be too dependent on one supplier, especially as Samsung Electronics is also largely responsible for Apple‘s A4 processor. It may also see Tegra2 as being more advanced than Orion for the next round of Galaxy gadgets, since the Hummingbird successor remains somewhat shadowy. Yeung also speculates that Tegra2 has been selected as the reference design for release 3.0 of Android, called Honeycomb, the first that will be fully optimized for large screen products like tablets. Andy Rubin, Google's VP of engineering and head of Android, demonstrated an Android tablet from Motorola this month, running on an Nvidia chipset.

First dual-core smartphone</h3

A more definite win comes from LG. As promised, the second Korean vendor has launched the world‘s first dual-core smartphone, the Optimus 2X, belatedly staking its claim to be a high profile contender in the Android market. LG has produced big hitting mobile hardware before, pioneering widescreen displays and cameras packed with megapixels. But those superphones have been proprietary, and the firm has suffered from its slowness in embracing open OS handsets. Its profits and market share have been hit hard this year by its lack of smartphones, making it over dependent on low margin products.

After a management shake-up, it has launched the Optimus Android range, but initial models were targeted at the mass market – an area of strong growth, but with limited impact on profit margins or brand awareness. To stand out in the crowded Android space, something special is needed. Samsung and HTC are fighting it out with gigahertz-plus processors, new display technologies and 4G radios. Now LG hopes Optimus 2X, with its Nvidia Tegra2 processor, will provide its own differentiator, supporting a fast web experience, efficient multitasking and advanced graphics and video.

"Dual-core technology is the next leap forward in mobile technology so this is no small achievement to be the first to offer a smartphone utilizing this," commented Dr Jong-seok Park, CEO of LG Mobile Communications. "With unique features such as HDMI mirroring and exceptional graphics performance, the LG Optimus 2X is proof of LG‘s commitment to high end smartphones in 2011."

Among the features of the new device are 1080p HD playback and recording with HDMI mirroring, which expands content on external displays to full HD quality, supporting the increasingly popular multiscreen concept, with the phone as hub and controller for many media devices. Like other Optimus models, the 2X supports the DLNA wireless standard for connecting to in-home platforms such as HDTVs, offering console-like gaming as well as video viewing.

Also included are an 8-megapixel rear camera – not quite matching the 12-mp of proprietary LG models or the Nokia N8, which currently sets the smartphone benchmark in terms of pure hardware functionality. There is also a 1.3-mp front-facing camera plus microSD, a micro-USB port and a 1500mH battery. At launch, the 2X will run Android 2.2 or Froyo, and will be upgradeable to 2.3. ®

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