Intel Earnings Are Fine, But Can It Nail Tablets?

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Intel had a profitable third quarter thanks to strong demand from corporate customers, but on the consumer side, the chip maker is scrambling to find a place in the brewing tablet war.

During the company's earnings call, Intel's president and chief executive, Paul Otellini, acknowledged that Intel's response to tablets was "the big question on everyone's mind." With Apple and Samsung supplying the chips for their own tablets, and Qualcomm likely to make the jump from smartphones soon, Intel is already behind.

"Our design-win momentum is very strong, and in the coming months and quarters, you will see Intel solutions that run on Windows, Android and MeeGo operating systems across a variety of form factors and price points," Otellini said.

Let's take a closer look at how Intel is getting into tablets.

Near Future: Windows 7

The ExoPC. (Click to zoom.)
If Microsoft chief executive Steve Ballmer is right that Windows 7 tablets will be available for the holidays, Intel will be doing the processing. Upcoming Windows tablets include the ExoPC, the Asus EeePad AP121 and the HP slate, but launch details are murky on all fronts.

In any case, these are stop-gap efforts for both Microsoft and Intel, resembling chopped-off netbooks more than mobile devices. Ballmer said major slate-optimized revamps won't happen until the next version of Windows.

Midterm: Android and MeeGo

Cisco's Cius. (Click to zoom.)
Intel's first serious stab at the tablet game is Moorestown, a chip that includes single-core Atom processors with a speed range of 1.2 GHz to 1.9 GHz. You will see Android tablets with Intel inside, including an AT&T tablet known as OpenPeak. There's also Cisco's Cius, a business tablet running Android on a 1.6 GHz Atom processor.

The other vessel for Moorestown is the MeeGo operating system, which Intel and Nokia are developing together. Prototypes of Intel MeeGo tablets running Moorestown are floating around. (Here's a video of the so-called CarryPad, here's a video of a Moorestown tablet running World of Warcraft, though I'm not sure which operating system is at work.)

Long Term: Oak Trail

Oak Trail is similar to Moorestown, except it can run full versions of Windows. Otellini suggested that this is pretty important, because it will allow Intel to work with all major tablet operating systems except Apple, and provides the power to perform "real full multitasking." Specific products are unknown, but if the stars align, Microsoft will get its tablet act together with an optimized version of Windows running on Intel's new chips.

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