Tablet Market Represents Challenge to Intel

Intel is taking steps to increase its presence in the mobility segment.

As more and more consumers and businesses gravitate toward tablets, the pressure is on Intel to establish a substantial presence in that market. Back in October 2010, Intel President and CEO Paul Otellini declared that his company would use "all of the assets at our disposal to win this segment."

However, the tablet processor market continues to be dominated by chips designed by ARM and manufactured by Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Nvidia and other chip makers. Intel has tried to carve a niche for itself with the lower-power Atom platform, but it hasn't managed to "win" to nearly the extent desired by Otellini.

That being said, Intel is taking steps to increase its presence in the mobility segment. At the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in September, the company announced an alliance with Google, which will optimize future versions of Android for the Atom platform. Intel is also helping develop "ultrabooks," which it hopes will allow it to exploit interest in thin-and-light form factors, and the MeeGo operating system for tablets and smartphones.

The first ultrabooks will sport Intel's current "Sandy Bridge" core processors. However, another wave will come next year powered by the chip maker's upcoming "Ivy Bridge" platform, which promises improved performance and energy efficiency.

In 2013, Intel will release "Haswell," another platform for ultrabooks that the company claims will cut idle platform power by 20 times, with as much as 10 days' worth of battery life in standby mode.

However, there are also signs that Intel's slow progress in the tablet market could cause the company trouble in the long term. For one thing, Microsoft is now planning for Windows 8 to run on both x86 and ARM architectures, which could boost the fortunes of Nvidia and other companies, while weakening the traditionally strong relationship between Microsoft and Intel.

Fully aware of the challenges, Intel is accelerating its pace and aggression in tablets, said Mark Miller, director of communications for the company's Netbook and Tablet Group.

That means developing products that meet the needs of not only consumers, he said, but also IT administrators and CIOs who desire "strong passcodes, secure boot, some level of content encryption and antivirus." In turn, that means Intel's tablet efforts are focused on everything from data protection to anti-malware.

Business customers, Miller added, are experiencing what he termed "pretty significant angst" over tablet support and security. "Support is the big one. It's largely around legacy apps, and there's a lot of work to be done there."

According to Miller, "Tablets are coming whether we like it or not." The majority of companies are already investigating how tablets will fit into their IT infrastructure. Consumers want to bring their personal tablets into their work spaces, which raises questions of support, manageability, and whether to prioritize feature development toward end users or administrators. "We're getting a lot of inbound requests," he said. "We're working frantically to cover that."

If Intel was slow to join the party, the company seems to be making a concerted effort to make up for lost time. But, as with most things tablet-related, the competition is intense.