Intel Atom to Appear in Tablets, Smartphone Ambitions Delayed

Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini told an audience at the Barclays Capital’s Global Technology Conference in San Francisco, California today that the company’s low-powered chips will appear in at least 35 tablets from various manufacturers in 2011, but the world’s largest chipmaker’s journey into smartphone will be slow and steady.

Although Otellini did not specify which tablet makers will be using the company’s Oak Trail chip, which is based on the netbook-spec Intel Atom design, he says that we will see Oak Trail tablets running on Microsoft’s Windows operating system, the company’s co-designed MeeGo OS with Nokia, and with Google’s Android mobile operating system. Android tablets will be running the Honeycomb version, which is version 3.0, that will be tablet-ready and will succeed the recently unveiled Android 2.3 Gingerbread that was announced this week.

Despite having co-developed MeeGo with Nokia to have a broader push into the mobile OS space, Intel seems to be platform agnostic. “Our customers are designing to support multiple operating systems – no one knows who is going to win here,” says Otellini.

After having sold off its mobile chip production–based on the ARM reference design–some years ago to Marvell, Intel has not had much success in the mobile processor space, which at this time seems to be dominated by Qualcomm with its Snapdragon chipset in many high-end phones, including those from Windows Phone 7 and Android. Despite having made a big push to get its Atom-based CPU into mobile handsets almost a year ago at CES 2010, no consumer phones have shipped with Atom on-board.

Otellini says that the smartphoneCPU, codenamed Medfield and a successor to the Atom-based Moorestown chip that was launched in May, will be shipping in 2011 and 2012. The Financial Times writes:

Mr Otellini said the phone game represented a marathon not a sprint for Intel. It was tackling issues of certification, modem integration and the telecoms software stack. Its smartphone processor codenamed Medfield was currently being debugged for shipment in 2011 and 2012, he added.

Intel’s push into the smartphone space will have to compete against ARM-based designs for high performance output while having low power consumption. ARM-based designs have been used by various companies, including the Samsung Hummingbird and Orion designs, various chips from Texas Instruments, in Apple’s push with the custom A4 processor, Qualcomm mobile CPU designs, and even used by NVIDIA, known for its graphics processor, in the dual-core gigahertz Tegra 2 chipsets. The first smartphones with Intel’s silicon isn’t expected until the second half of 2011.

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