Nvidia 'Kai' Platform Could Challenge Apple iPad

 
 
By Jeffrey Burt  |  Posted 2012-05-24
 
 
 

Nvidia executives are preparing for a major push into the iPad-dominated tablet space with an Android-based platform called €œKai€ and plans to leverage Microsoft€™s Windows RT operating system when it€™s rolled out later this year.

The company is looking to leverage its ARM-based chip technology to enable high-performance and power-efficient tablets that will cost significantly less than Apple€™s iPad and the host of Android-based devices already on the market, making tablets more cost-effective for many consumers who can€™t afford the current systems.

The Kai platform is designed to leverage the company€™s Tegra 3 chip to offer quad-core tablets that Nvidia officials say will run Google€™s Android 4.0, or Ice Cream Sandwich, mobile operating system and cost about $199, significantly less than the $499 starting price for an iPad.

Rob Csonger, vice president of investor relations at Nvidia, unveiled Kai during a lengthy review of the company€™s products at the GPU Technology Conference May 17. The quad-core Tegra 3 CPU is a cornerstone of Nvidia€™s growing mobile strategy, which covers both smartphones and tablets. Csonger noted that in 2011€”the year the company introduced its mobile business€”there were 18 smartphone designs, all based on the dual-core Tegra 2.

This year there will be 29 new smartphone designs using Nvidia technology, with 22 based on Tegra 3, he said, adding that the strategy will be to migrate from high-end devices into the mainstream. This year, the company also is turning its attention to tablets.

Csonger noted that after the iPad was released, device makers came out with numerous Android-based tablets, but that many were too expensive. Amazon€™s Android-based Kindle Fire came out last year and has dominated the Android tablet market, but he said many reviews said the devices had a good price point but disappointing performance.

Nvidia is hoping to bridge the gulf between performance and price, Csonger said.

€œOur strategy on Android is simply to enable quad-core tablets running Android Ice Cream Sandwich to be developed and brought out to market at the $199 price point,€ he said. €œThe way we do that is a platform we€™ve developed called Kai. So this uses a lot of the secret sauce that€™s inside Tegra 3 to allow you to develop a tablet at a much lower cost, by using a lot of innovation that we€™ve developed to reduce the power that€™s used by the display and use lower-cost components within the tablet.€

Csonger didn€™t give any details about who will develop the devices or when they€™ll hit the market.

Toshiba on May 24 rolled out the AT300 tablet, which is powered by the Tegra 3 chip. The 10.1-inch tablet runs Android 4.0, but its starting price of about $500 is more akin to the iPad than the device envisioned by Nvidia.

During his talk, Csonger said the second prong of Nvidia€™s tablet push will come with Windows RT, the version of Windows 8 that will support system-on-a-chip (SoC) architectures from ARM. ARM€™s chip designs are found in most smartphones and tablets, and are manufactured by such vendors as Nvidia, Qualcomm and Samsung Electronics. Windows RT will be the first version of the OS that doesn€™t run on systems powered by x86 chips made by Intel or Advanced Micro Devices.

The new operating system signals the €œend of the Windows and Intel€”the Wintel€”monopoly€ in PCs, he said. Windows RT will enable a new generation of PC and PC-like devices that will offer new models and designs that are more mobile and more energy-efficient, Csonger said. €œIt changes the PC,€ he said.

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