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Intel's 'Bay Trail' Atom chip could blur the line between PCs, tablets

Mark Hachman | Aug. 12, 2013
Desktops, notebooks, tablets: Just five years ago, those three words defined three distinct classes of products. But now consumers are being asked to choose among all-in-ones, two-in-ones, convertibles, mini-tablets, ultraportables, and phablets. With Intel's new "Bay Trail" Atom chip, due this fall, you can expect the market to diversify even more.

"While the total is still somewhat small compared to the overall tablet market size, I think this shows decent progress," Reith said in an email. "We expect that growth to continue into the second half of 2013 as those same vendors continue to push price points of Windows tablets down closer to that of iOS and Android tablets."

Designed for Android or Windows
Wallace declined to comment when asked whether Intel would sell more Bay Trail chips to the traditional Android tablet market, or to the Windows tablet/ultraportable segment. "The fact that Intel can design for both of them is a major statement of credibility," he says.

Questions remain, however. Intel isn't acting in a vacuum; Bay Trail will be competing against ARM chips such as the Qualcomm Snapdragon 800, which has already been benchmarked, in traditional Android tablets. If Qualcomm or Nvidia can convince buyers that their chip is the premium offering--whether in an Android tablet or a refreshed Surface RT--Intel may have to sit on the sidelines for a generation.

Several sources also made the point that consumers have already sampled cheap tablets, were turned off by the experience, and may be reluctant to try such models again. "There's definitely a difference in buying a $59 no-name tablet from BigLots and a Nexus 7," IDC's Mainelli notes. "I think that in mature markets, like the U.S., consumers will only be willing to do that once. Next time around, they'll want to spend a bit more money" for a better experience, he says.

Wallace agrees, saying that Intel's internal research had showed a higher rate of returns and dissatisfaction with tablets currently priced at $80 or so.

A 'converged' tablet?
If OEMs do choose the dual-boot route, combining Android and Windows in a single device, it could create a new class of device. Call it a converged tablet, for lack of a better name. But it's a strange dichotomy, too: Bay Trail also seems poised to help the market diversify further, with converged tablets providing yet another option for consumers. Spin it as you will--is the market growing more flexible, or is it merely fragmenting?

"We've had this discussion internally as well," Intel's Wallace says. "Is the market going to settle on just a few devices? My personal opinion is, in the near term we'll see increased experimentation, and I mean that in a good way."

Disclosure: PCWorld, TechHive, and IDC are all owned by International Data Group, but they share no editorial affiliation.


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