AMD Eyes Tablets, but Not Smartphones, Interim CEO Says

AMD interim CEO Thomas Seifert said the chip maker is not looking to enter the smartphone space, but that it will become a larger player in tablets in 2012.

Advanced Micro Devices officials reportedly have no plans to enter the highly competitive smartphone space, but they see opportunity in the burgeoning tablet PC market.

According to reports out of the Goldman Sachs Internet and Technology Conference in San Francisco, AMD interim CEO Thomas Seifert said that there were enough chip vendors in the mobile phone space who already were struggling to make money. AMD sees no reason to become another one, Siefert told the audience at the conference.

The smartphone chip space is dominated by processors designed by ARM Holdings and manufactured by the likes of Samsung Electronics, Qualcomm and Texas Instruments.

AMD also is hampered by not having baseband processor development plans. Baseband chips help manage cellular communications, a key part of the growing smartphone business. Rival Intel, which like AMD is looking to expand beyond PCs and servers, gained baseband technology when it bought Infineon's wireless technology business for $1.4 billion, a deal that closed in January.

"We have no intention of entering the smartphone space at this point of time," Seifert said during the conference Feb. 16. "There are enough players in this market that have a hard time earning money."

However, the tablet market is another story. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, Seifert said. The demands of the tablet market-which also is dominated by ARM-based processors-is in line with where AMD is heading with its processors, not only in the area of power consumption, but also with the chip maker's graphics capabilities as tablets increasingly take on video and other multimedia duties.

During the just-concluded World Mobile Congress 2011 show in Barcelona, Acer launched the Iconia Tab W500, a device that runs Microsoft's Windows 7 operating system and is powered by AMD's dual-core C-50 "Ontario" chip with the "Bobcat" core and Radeon HD6250 graphics technology. Seifert acknowledged the Acer device powered by AMD, but said AMD's real opportunity in the tablet market will likely come in 2012, with its second generation of Fusion APUs (accelerated processing units), which put the CPU and graphics technology onto the same piece of silicon. Those will come with even better power consumption numbers, he said

"So especially with the products-with the second-generation APU products that are on the roadmap for next year-we feel confident that we can also address a significant amount of those form factors out in the tablet space," Seifert said, according to PC Magazine.

It should be a healthy market for some time to come. Research firm IDC expects tablet shipments to grow from 45 million units this year to almost 71 million in 2012, as a host of vendors-including Acer, Hewlett-Packard, Research In Motion, Samsung and Motorola-look to challenge Apple's highly successful iPad.

AMD is in the middle of a tremendous amount of change. Dirk Meyer last month resigned as CEO in a disagreement with the board of directors, which reportedly felt that AMD was not pushing aggressively enough into such areas as mobile device and tablet PCs. Seifert, the company's senior vice president and CFO, was tabbed to server as interim CEO. He has said he is not in the running for the top spot. Earlier this month, two other executives also left the company.

However, there also has been opportunity for AMD. The company at the Consumer Electronics Show in January launched the first of its Fusion APUs, and is planning to roll out more chips in the coming months, including the "Llano" APU for PCs and notebooks-and which was demonstrated during the Goldman Sachs conference-as well as the upcoming "Bulldozer" core, which customers are sampling now and will ship in consumer PCs this summer. Bulldozer also will be a key subject during AMD's presentations at the ISSCC (International Solid State Circuits Conference), which begins Feb. 20 in San Francisco.

AMD officials also said they got a boost at the beginning of the month when Intel announced a design flaw with a supporting chipset for its new "Sandy Bridge" Core processors, which officially launched at CES. The problem forced Intel to temporarily stop shipping the chipset and start manufacturing new ones. It also briefly delayed the release of new 32-nanometer Sandy Bridge processors, which-like AMD's Fusion APUs-offers the CPU and discrete-level graphics technology on the same die.

Intel's problems gave a boost to AMD's stock price, and AMD executive said the issues also helped drive business to the smaller chip maker.

"We have some customers and retailers who have come to us specifically as a result of Intel's chip problem," Leslie Sobon, vice president of product and platform marketing for AMD, told Dow Jones Newswires Feb. 10. "Some retailers have had to take things off their shelves, so they call us to ask what they could get from our OEMs that's similar. And OEMs are asking us for product, as well."

AMD is looking to cash in even more with a marketing campaign starting Feb. 18 that looks to highlight Intel's chipset issue. Dubbed "Ready, Willing and Stable," the campaign includes global advertising, online marketing and a Twitter competition that starts Feb. 21. The campaign is designed to highlight the performance, energy efficiency and competitive price points of AMD's new CPUs, APUs and GPUs, according to a press release.

"Meanwhile, other market developments have customers and channel partners scrambling to find components to meet their PC building needs today," AMD officials said in the release.