Even for people who keep more of an eye out on upstream chip companies rather than downstream device makers, the focus for this year’s Computex has been very much on tablet PCs. This is because of the general consensus that while Intel will find it difficult to break into the Arm-dominated mobile phone and smartphone markets, Arm, too, will struggle to break into Intel’s stronghold in personal computers.
This leaves the tablet as just ambiguous enough a category – is it an oversized mobile device? Or a keyboard-less netbook? – for the two to fight over. This is certainly happening – Intel unveiled Canoe Lake (pictured), a new ultrathin platform that can support both single and dual-core atom processors for tablets and netbooks – at its Computex keynote on Tuesday.
Yet as a range of other electronic devices in our lives also become ‘smarter’, there are clear signs that the two chip companies are increasingly going to be fighting for market share among much more than just personal devices.
The most obvious is in smart TVs. Tudor Brown, Arm president, on Monday showed off a Samsung connected-TV that used an Arm processor and a Linux-based operating system. He also confirmed Arm was working on a high-end processor code-named Eagle, and that the British chip company would support the Google TV initiative, to which Intel had already signed up.
Both, however, will also likely increasingly compete in ‘microcontrollers’, small processors for specialised applications. “The opportunities in this smart world is huge even if they are hidden,” Mr Brown said.
His sentiments were echoed by Dadi Perlmutter, executive vice president of Intel Architecture Group, whose keynote address on Tuesday emphasised the slightly ominous-sounding point that “Atom will be everywhere”.
Besides filling the stage with tablets, servers, exercise machines, and video-cameras that incorporate an atom processor, one slide also showed a long, Mr Perlmutter also had one slide that showed a scrolling list of devices that could have could have ‘Atom Inside’, including pachinko machines and car wash kiosks.
It’s a sizeable market too, with research firm Frost & Sullivan estimating the global market for microcontrollers at around $13bn last year. Looks like the battle is far from over yet.