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Intel's tablet adventure looking more like its netbook disaster

Agam Shah | April 21, 2016
Intel chips for low-end tablets could be axed as part of the company's restructuring

Intel is now looking to cut products as it restructures operations, and some low-cost and low-volume Atom tablet chips could be casualties. The company may elect to not release a successor or refresh its current Cherry Trail line of Atom chips, which are used mostly in mainstream tablets and some low-cost PCs.

The company hinted as much at IDF Shenzhen, where Intel emphasized its focus on tablet-PC hybrids. A new lineup of upcoming Pentium and Celeron chips called Apollo Lake will succeed the existing Atom X5 Cherry Trail line of chips, said Navin Shenoy, senior vice president and general manager of Intel’s Client Computing Group, during a keynote.

Apollo Lake, which will be released in the second half this year, will primarily serve as a successor to the existing line of Pentium and Celeron chips, called Braswell, for low-cost PCs and hybrids. But by merging the Cherry Trail chips with Pentium and Celeron, Intel may remove the confusion people may have about its low-end tablet and PC chip lines.

About 100 laptops and hybrids with detachable tablet screens are being designed using Apollo Lake, said Shenoy, who showed some prototypes on stage. Some of the products being designed may not ultimately ship.

Intel's Skylake-based Core M chip is looking more like the company's tablet and two-in-one chip of the future. Atom tablet chips are getting squeezed out as PC and tablet makers prefer the faster Core M chips, which offer close to the same battery life as Cherry Trail. The Core M chips are used in higher-priced tablets, a market Intel is targeting.

Cherry Trail is used in Microsoft's HoloLens headset, which delivers an estimated 3.3 hours of battery life. That's a sign that Intel could redirect its future Atom chips to headsets, wearables, and other IoT devices.

Intel also makes Atom chips for smartphones, but won't give up on that market considering the company's heavy focus on cloud hardware, McCarron said.

Intel's Atom chips are installed in just a few handsets, and the company is trying to catch up with ARM. But there is space for Intel to compete in the smartphone market, with more than a billion units shipped each year.

Intel made a valiant effort to succeed in tablets, but now it's time for them to chase more profitable markets like IoT and data centers, McGregor said.


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