With analysts projecting sales of tens of millions of tablet PCs over the next few years, companies that will benefit — sooner or later — include not just device makers but chip manufacturers like Intel and Texas Instruments (TI).
Right now, though, Apple’s iPad holds such a commanding lead that it’s going to take other players varying amounts of time to make much of a dent in the market, for those that manage to do so at all.
TI’s OMAP family of systems on a chip (SoCs) have already shown up in some tablets, such as the Nokia 770 Internet Tablet and TI’s own Blaze Tablet, a high-end device for developers priced at $2,259.
The Samsung Galaxy Tab devices that ship this fall will use the same ARM A8 Cortex platform that appears in the Nokia 770 and Blaze.
The A4 processor in Apple’s first generation iPad is also based on A8 Cortex, the most powerful chip architecture to reach the market yet.
Although estimates of the tablet PC market vary considerably, Forrester Research has predicted that 20.4 million will be sold by 2015.
In large measure, however, vendors hoping to produce iPad killers are waiting for the right configurations of silicone to be released by chipmakers.
MSI a Prime Example
For instance, only a couple of weeks after showing a Windows 7 tablet in August at Computex, MSI decided to hold off on producing the MSI WindPad 100 until the availability of chips based on the future Intel Oak Trail platform.
MSI’s Andy Tung said that the Intel Atom Z530 processor originally planned as the underpinning for the Windows 7 device didn’t offer enough power and battery life for a viable tablet PC.
At the time, MSI still planned to release the Android-enabled WindPad 110 on the Nvidia Tegra 2 ARM processor — which is based on the Cortex A9 architecture — in time for the holiday season.
New Tablet Chips from Intel and TI
Meanwhile, though, TI doesn’t expect to ship its own Cortex A9 SoCs until later this year, for use in tablets and other devices anticipated in ship early next year.
TI has also licensed the even more powerful Eagle application processor chipset from ARM, but Eagle-based gadgets probably won’t show up until 2012.
As the new ARM-based processors get closer to actual release, Intel and TI are going to be butting heads over business from consumer electronic (CE) product makers, observed Craig Ellis, managing director and semiconductor analyst at Caris & Co.
Intel processors can already be found in tablets such as the rumored HP Slate 500 (as it appeared in a series of leaks), Avaya Flare, AsusEP121, and Cisco Cius, Ellis pointed out in a recent research note.
Now, however, tablet producers also await the derivatives of Moorestown, a platform originally announced as an environment for tablets and other small form factor devices.
Also unveiled at Computex in June, the derivatives include the dual-core Pine Trail processor and Oak Trail.
Aimed at compensating for the lack of Windows support in Moorestown, Oak Trail has been targeted by Intel at availability in early 2011.