As Android for tablets falters, opportunity for Intel

Intel has a shot at tablet success on Android in the wake of the slow start of the Motorola Xoom and the Samsung Galaxy Tab, which are based on chip technology that competes with Intel products.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
2 min read

Intel has been criticized here and in other venues for being late to the tablet party. But Android's slow start in tablets may mean latecomers aren't necessarily losers.

Intel was demoing an Atom-based tablet at its developer conference in Beijing this week
Intel was demoing an Atom-based tablet at its developer conference in Beijing this week Intel

A stroke of serendipity has arrived in the form of a tepid consumer reception so far for tablets beyond Apple's iPad. Sales of the Motorola Xoom are, to date, anemic, while the sell-through to consumers of Samsung's Android tablet has also been underwhelming.

And Digitimes reported today that tablet suppliers Asus and HTC are delaying Android tablet rollouts.

Meanwhile, RIM's BlackBerry PlayBook--which is more like an appendage to a BlackBerry phone than a standalone tablet--is not targeted at the high-volume consumer space.

So, with tablets based on chips from companies like Nvidia (Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab) and Texas Instruments (PlayBook) not likely flying off the shelf, are Intel's chances any better now?

"The door to this market is open. The longer it takes for these other products to get rolling, the more opportunity there is for Intel," said Richard Shim, an analyst at DisplaySearch.

And others see an opening for the world's largest chipmaker. "Though Apple has set the bar, it's not going to be alone in this space. Right now it looks like Android will have the majority of tablet sales (outside of Apple), and Intel has a dedicated team of people to make Android work the best it can on its Atom chips. They have a lot of resources they can apply," said Jack Gold of consulting firm J.Gold Associates, who wrote about this yesterday.

And Intel, despite its unimpressive start, has another advantage. Atom is not just another cookie-cutter design from U.K.-based ARM. Intel can bring to bear all of its manufacturing, security, and media processing know-how, according to Gold, who believes it will continue to whittle away successfully at the inherent power-efficiency advantage of ARM chips. "My take is that Intel can capture 20 to 25 percent of that remaining market outside of Apple."

Shim has a few words of caution, however. "It all depends, of course, how well Honeycomb (Android 3.0) runs on Atom," said Shim. "That's a big if." And Shim also warns Intel not to put too many eggs in the MeeGo basket, which is a hard sell to developers in a field crowded with Hewlett-Packard's WebOS and RIM's QNX, in addition to Android.

(See demo of an Intel tablet at the Intel developer conference in Beijing this week.)