So Intel has showcased six Honeycomb tablets at the Computex show, all of them engineered around the company’s latest 32-nanometer silicon code-named Medfield, the chip maker’s first system-on-a-chip engineered specifically for tablets and smartphones. Unsurprisingly, the demos fell on deaf ears with the veteran journalists who have seen it all.
Sean Moloney, Intel’s new president for China, flashed six Honeycomb 3.0 tablets and a smartphone during his opening keynote. He said reference designs for Medfield tablets and smartphones include both Android and ill-fated Meego software that Intel and Nokia co-developed for high-end mobile gear.
Intel has been trying for years to penetrate the potent mobile market where ARM-based processors designed by Nvidia, Texas Instruments, Apple and others woe device makers. Be that as it may, we don’t see Intel’s latest technology competing effectively with market incumbents – neither this nor next year. Why?
For starters, Medfield devices won’t hit the market before “early next year”. For its part Intel boasts the fact that Medfield-powered smartphones and tablets will be less than 9mm thin and weigh in at just 1.5 pounds and under. However, watchful readers might easily point out that despite some 35 design wins, Medfield’s 2012 specs are in the neighborhood of this year’s iPad 2, which is 8.8mm thick and weighing in at 1.4 pounds. Competitors won’t be standing still as Intel rolls out Medfield – early 2012 brings us iPad 3 from Apple and a plethora of Honeycomb tablets powered by Nvidia’s quad-core Tegra 3 processor.
In the meantime, companies like ViewSonic can build power-hungry devices using the Oak Trail chip (basically an old Atom Z670 platform), like the ViewPad 10Pro. Rubbing salt into wound are Intel’s partners that aren’t exactly praising Medfield. Then there’s ARM, a UK-based fabless semiconductor maker whose blueprints are a norm in chips that power the vast majority of smartphones and tablets, including Apple’s iPad, Motorola’s Xoom and Samsung’s Galaxy series. The company stole the headlines yesterday by announcing a plan to conquer half of the mobile PC market by 2015, stepping on Intel’s toes in the process.
Intel tried to regain some steam by drumming up so-called Ultrabooks, but journalists quickly labeled those “smacks of desperation”, pointing out Intel’s Ultrabooks are really ultra-thin notebooks with a fancy name. For example, ZDNet’s John Morris wrote that “on paper, the ultrabook sounds a lot like the CULV laptops that Intel introduced in 2009”. Such a notion certainly applies to the new Asus UX21 notebook depicted in the video below. Intel will have to try a lot harder to impress partners with power-savvy chips for mobile gadgets and it may already be too late because both ARM and Nvidia are now eying notebook and desktop computers, key markets Intel cannot afford to lose.