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Left Out of the iPad Party, Intel Bad-Mouths Tablet PCs


Intel's execs have just been bad-mouthing tablet PCs and voice-control on cellphones—neither is particularly promising tech, say the boys from the big chip-maker. What's their motivation for saying this? Sour grapes it would seem.

The head of Intel's architecture group, David Perlmutter, speaking at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing this week, is responsible for the gloomy words about tablet PCs. The thrust of his argument is that "these new categories are hard to predict" and that when the market "evolves" his company is ready with "technology to be able to support" it. Subtle it may be, but Perlmutter is intimating that the upcoming crop of tablet PCs will be underwhelming, probably as many of them won't be using Intel chips...and that tablet makers will eventually see the error of their ways, and soon slap an "Intel inside" sticker on their tablets. Perlmutter then banged the netbook drum a little, noting the mini laptops are continuing to develop "with a very fast pace," which is of course good news for Intel as the Atom is inside most of them.

Intel's laboratory chief, Justin Rattner, even added a snarky comment—"This is by no means the first attempt at tablets. It's more of a 'third epoch'"—though he did concede the new tablet's form factor was approaching a design that "probably has some legs."

Meanwhile, on a different topic entirely, Permutter also seems to have taken to task the voice control technology found in some smartphones today—he thinks it's immature and "the algorithms are not good enough," despite the fact that it's a more "natural" way to interact with a PC or smart mobile device. Gesture recognition on touchscreens is one way to achieve more fluid man-machine interfaces, but voice recognition is still a long way off: "Maybe in 20 years [...] I'm still waiting."

What's with all this negativity, Intel? You're riding the wave of success of a record-breaking profitable quarter, aren't you? I think the answer is actually simple: Envy. Envy, in fact, directed at companies like Apple and Google. It's clear now, from its early rocket-powered sales pace, that the iPad is going to sell by the million around the globe... and the iPad 2 in 2011 will probably do the same, if it follows the iPhone business model. The iPhone is also going to get more sophisticated, and continue to sell by the armload too. Meanwhile, Google's Android OS is pushing onwards and upwards, and is found on more and more phones, from more and more manufacturers. And remember that Google's own Nexus One phone showcased one fabulously clever feature: Extensive voice control.

And Apple's iPad and iPhone use ARM-based chips, developed in-house in the iPad's case (and probably for iPhone 2010 too) while Google's Nexus One smartphone uses a Qualcomm Snapdragon ARM chip, and very few Android-powered smartphone-like devices use Intel CPUs. Intel's Atom successor, Moorestown, is likely to end up in a few tablets and maybe smartphones later in 2010...but they won't be the prestigious ones.

Essentially the tablet PC and smartphone markets are going to change how we think about mobile computing, affecting even the laptop market eventually, and will rapidly expand into billion-dollar industries. Intel is evidently very nervous that its tech is not going to be at the heart of a whole new paradigm in computing—and that lovely river of cash flowing into its coffers will dry up.

Kit QR codeTo keep up with this news in a more real-time setting, follow me, Kit Eaton, on Twitter. That QR code on the left will take you to my Twitter feed too. (And if you've no idea what that spotty-looking thing is, then find out here.)