Thursday, November 28, 2013

Intel Prepares for Tablet War with Sub-$100 Pricing

by: James E. Carroll
Look for a new crop of 7" and 8" tablets powered by Intel processors with value pricing of under $100. These will be the opening salvos of what Intel expects will be a big battle for the tablet market in 2014.

During the course of 2013, Intel established its first footprint in the tablet market with a design win in a Samsung Galaxy device, said company CEO Brian Krzanich during an investor meeting in Santa Clara, California. For 2014, Intel will "invest to scale" with a goal of increasing shipments by 4X to more than 40 million Intel-based tablets sold.

Because the tablet market has grown up without Intel, the company's first objective has been to convince the ecosystem that it is serious about this space. In some cases, Intel has now made long-term agreements with OEMs to convince them of its determination.

The plan calls for a performance segmentation strategy, support for Android and Windows, integrating McAfee security into the offering and introducing "Perceptual Computing" capabilities driven by multiple sensors in each device.

Last week, Taiwan-based DigiTimes reported that Intel may be ready to offer US$1 billion in market subsidies to help major OEMs make the transition to its Bay Trail processors.  Per unit cost of the Intel processors is said to be around US$20, although the DigiTimes report suggests even lower prices for large brand vendors.

Sub-$100 Tablets

At the low-end, Black Friday sales in the United States included new tablets from Dell, HP and others based on Intel's current dual-core and quad-core "Medfield" Atom processors.  The company will span from upper end devices (above $450) to entry level devices (under $100) good for browsing the Web.

For example, Walmart is offering the HP Mesquite for $89.  At Costco, the Dell Venue 8 tablet is available for anyone buying a regular PC for $599 or more.  The same Dell Venue 8 tablet is expected to be available directly from Dell for $129.

Beyond driving prices lower, Intel is seeking to takes its innovations for the PCs down into the tablet market. The first step in this direction is to scale Android for 64-bit, which will allow larger memories and enable enterprise applications.  The first 64-bit Bay Trail Atom tablets are expected in 2014, beginning with Windows.

Broxton and SoFIA Mobility Chipsets for Tablets

Intel's LTE chipsets will also make their way into tablet designs.  By mid-2015, Intel plans to introduce a next generation Atom processor called "Broxton" for high-end smartphones and tables. Broxton will feature a core chassis that can be rapidly modified for integration with other intellectual property blocks.  The will enable Intel to rapidly rollout multiple iterations of the Broxton processor for OEM customers, much like how ARM has been able to create many customized versions of its cores.

Taking the same pragmatic market approach, Intel is also planning to introduce SoFIA entry-level, mobile broadband processor based on technology from its acquisition of Infineon Wireless.  The plan is to replace the ARM core with an IA design but to keep using the outside foundry for the first 3G device and later an LTE device. Eventually, SoFIA will move to an Intel foundry using 14nm.

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