Tablets powered by Intel's upcoming "Oak Trail" Atom processor reportedly should start hitting the market in May.
In an interview with PC Advisor, an Intel spokesperson said the Atom-powered tablets will start becoming available around the time of the Computex trade show in Taiwan, which runs May 31 through June 4.
"Oak Trail tablets are expected to start hitting shelves in May and throughout 2011," the Intel spokesperson said.
Intel is eager to gain a strong foothold in the burgeoning tablet market, which currently is dominated by chips from such vendors as Samsung, Texas Instruments and Qualcomm based on designs from ARM Holdings. Intel executives are working to expand Intel's reach beyond its core server and PC markets and into such businesses as smartphones, tablets and embedded devices.
They want to leverage the Atom platform-initially created for the netbook space-as a pathway into tablets and smartphones. Intel executives have not been shy about their intentions. In October 2010, while announcing quarterly financial results, President and CEO Paul Otellini said the company will move aggressively into the tablet space.
"We will use all of the assets at our disposal to win this segment," Otellini said at the time. "We fully expect to participate fully and broadly in this market."
Oak Trail is one of two Atom chips aimed at the tablet space. Oak Trail is designed for tablets running Windows, while "Moorestown" will power tablets running Google's Android OS and MeeGo, a Linux-based operating system developed by Intel and Nokia. The MeeGo plans took a hit when Nokia announced in February its intention to make Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 the primary software platform for its smartphones.
Days later, Otellini said Intel still intended to develop the MeeGo operating system. During the Intel Developer Forum in September 2010, the chip maker had a number of Atom-powered tablets on display, running both Android and MeeGo.
The Intel spokesperson would not tell PC Advisor which OEMs would be releasing Atom-based tablets, or when they would launch. In December 2010, Otellini said there were already 35 tablet designs in the works to be powered by Atom. Already a host of them-including Lenovo and Fujitsu-has showed off tablets powered by Atom and running Windows 7.
Otellini and Intel expect to gain ground on ARM and its partners throughout this year and into 2012. In December, Otellini said that the competition with ARM is a "marathon, not a sprint." He said Atom-based smartphones are expected to hit the market in the second half of 2011.
Intel's efforts are understandable. In an April 4 column on Forbes.com, Roger Kay, principal analyst with Endpoints Technologies Associates, said that this year, high-mobility devices-in particular, smartphones and tablets-will surpass PCs in global shipments. Due to demands for low power consumption, most devices rely on the ARM-based chips. There is still skepticism whether Intel and rival Advanced Micro Devices can drive the x86 architecture into the space, particularly as ARM grows beyond smartphones and deeper into tablets.
Intel has the tougher road, according to Kay. Since AMD spun off its manufacturing business in 2009 to create Globalfoundries, it's now a fables chip vendor, and Globalfoundries already makes chips for ARM licensees, such as Qualcomm. Intel has invested heavily in its x86 manufacturing capabilities, and it's unlikely that it would want to support another architecture like ARM, he said.
That said, Intel and AMD officials need to keep their options open, Kay said.
"ARM is extending its reach from phones, its traditional space, up to tablets, the new hot product market," he wrote. "This development puts a question mark over the x86 vendors' prospects. Sure lots of PCs will sell this year, next year, and the year after, but if the momentum is shifting over to ARM, the two principle x86 vendors may want to revisit their exclusive commitments."