Intel needs tablet win for Atom

Intel has made minimal impact on the mobile processor market yet, but this week it will unveil its biggest shot yet at the emerging tablet space, with the Oak Trail member of the Atom family. Ahead of the launch in Beijing, though, another interesting mobile story has emerged, with reports that the chip giant has designed an Atom-based handset for ZTE.
 
According to Bloomberg Intel may be aiming to build up a base for Atom by creating reference platforms that help reduce cost and time to market for OEMs. It’s an approach that has been used by some ARM-based handset silicon providers and by Intel in other device markets including PCs for emerging economies.
 
The new reports say that Intel has supplied a reference design to ZTE, which will appear in a phone targeted at the Chinese market.
 
So far, Intel handset partnerships have not yielded commercial results. LG showed a prototype Atom smartphone but then did not bring it to market, while the important alliance with Nokia for MeeGo products was sidelined by the Finnish giant's partnership with Microsoft in February.
 
Intel spokeswoman Claudine Mangano told Bloomberg the firm is working on several products, but recognizes “we have some work to do,” in terms of the overall market.
 
Meanwhile, Oak Trail's official launch also had a Chinese focus, as the chip hit the market at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing. The vendor claimed to already have 35 design wins for the processor, which claims to be 60% smaller and far less power hungry than its predecessor Pine Trail, and promises "all day" battery life for tablets running Android, MeeGo, Chrome OS or Windows.
 
 
The company also pledged to speed up the introduction of future tablet processors, bringing their release schedule in line with that of PC chips. Oak Trail is competitive with ARM on power consumption in heavy usage scenarios, said Doug Davis, general manager of the netbook and tablet group. "We are accelerating the Intel Atom product line to now move faster than Moore's Law, bringing new products to market on three process technologies in the next three years.”
 
As well as tablets, Oak Trail targets netbooks and entry level PCs, and it is the first Intel chip optimized for Android Honeycomb. Some vendors, including Fujitsu and Lenovo have already promised devices this year, but these are likely to be netbooks - a product category where Atom is strong, but which is declining in volumes.
 
Intel badly needs a good tablet win to boost the credibility of Atom in the newer form factor.
 
After Oak Trail will come a 32nm dual-core model called Cedar Trail, which will integrate all system I/O and will ship before the end of the year. The smartphone variant of this highly integrated product, Medfield, is also imminent but is still facing accusations of being too battery hungry for handsets.
 

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