THE LAUNCH of Intel's Atom Z670 chip marks a watershed moment for the chipmaker as it tries to grapple with the growth of tablet devices in the so-called 'post-PC era'.
Intel's Atom processor has become synonymous with netbooks, and while the pint-sized laptops are still popular, the future is all about smartphones and tablets, an area where Kevin O'Donovan, marketing manager for notebooks and tablets at Intel, admits the firm needs to "become relevant". Intel's absence in the market is so clear even O'Donovan couldn't gloss over it, admitting, "You won't find that many Intel based tablets on the shelves at the moment."
The problem for Intel is that it is not immediately clear how the company will become relevant in the tablet market with the Atom Z670. Intel pitches the Atom Z670 as a chip that can run multiple operating systems and bring the advantages associated with an x86 compatible chip to tablets. The question is whether tablets need x86 processors as much as Intel needs to sell chips that get put into tablets.
During what seemed like a hastily arranged conference call, Intel kept pushing the Atom Z670 as a chip that can run many operating systems, including Microsoft's Windows 7, Google's Android 3.0 Honeycomb and Meego.
The Atom's ability to run Windows 7 is just about the only unique selling point Intel has against the ARM-based chips from the likes of Qualcomm, Samsung, Texas Instruments and others.
Intel's strategy to bank on Windows 7 demand to push the Atom Z670 into tablets is a risky move for two reasons.
The tablet market has seen significant growth without Microsoft's operating system being loaded on any device and Gartner believes that by 2015, tablets running Apple's IOS and Google's Android will account for almost 86 per cent of the market. Then there is the question of whether a heavyweight operating system designed around keyboard and mouse input can provide the user experience that Intel says matters so much, against operating systems that are tailored for touch-based input.
Even if Microsoft scores something of a miracle and overturns Gartner's figures with Windows 8, that operating system will run on both x86 and ARM architectures. That means Intel won't have the carrot of Windows support to dangle in front of device manufacturers to win business.