I got an NDA pre-look at some of the aspects of Intel’s next generation Atom processor (code named Bay Trail) tablet processor, and I was quite impressed. Intel has created a real, world class SoC, not just a low-power (and performance) x86 Atom as in the past. This is a new CPU based on a new microarchitecture (Silvermont), built on a state-of-the-art 22 nm tri-gate process. It has a quad core processor, and has an innovating power management system.
The chip handily runs Windows 8.1 or (and it could even be and/or) Android. Early performance tests shared show it meeting >2x performance claims over the previous Z2760 and beating existing designs in the market. I expect to see a bunch of design wins announced at IDF.
Before the advent of the modern tablet as designed and defined by Apple in 2010, casual users of PCs had no choice. Even if all they wanted to do was to check email, do a little web browsing and shopping, and maybe even play with photos or videos before uploading them to Facebook or YouTube, they had no choice but to buy a PC. PCs are complicated devices to use. You can only interface with them via a keyboard and mouse, and as mentioned, they are not cheap. Also, they are regularly obsoleted, requiring the user to upgrade every other year or so in order to be compatible with the rest of the world.
The tablet ended that tyranny. Now the user had a choice. For the causal media consumer the tablet was a modern miracle, as if someone had been listening to their prayers for an easier to use (weight, form factor), lower cost device. Even if the tablet was on the same semi-annual obsolesce track, the cost of the tablet made that more palatable.
The PC users who did not use their PCs for productivity and content creation found the tablet to be the ideal machine for media consumption and presentation, and so they abandoned the PC, and will likely never come back. However, for people who do real productivity work, they will continue to use a PC, but may also (and probably will) have a tablet too. That is why tablet sales have risen to a much greater degree than the PC sales have declined.
The tipping point
Microsoft, AMD, and Intel recognize these facts. Therefore, Microsoft's strategy is to allow users who purchase Windows 8–based tablets to have best of the tablet experience, as well as the best of the traditional desktop/notebook.
We think this is actually going to happen, and that with the onset of powerful and low-power-consuming X86 processors from AMD and Intel, tablets will transition from just a media consumption and lightweight editing tool to a real productivity machine.
I think the tablet will now go from just a media consumption device to a content creation machine.
Intel’s Bay Trail processor is likely to be very competitive with the SoCs from Apple, Qualcomm, Nvidia, and Samsung. Success will still depend on sell-through of the X-86, Windows 8–based designs from companies like ASUS, Acer, Dell, HP, Lenovo, Samsung, etc. It may take a few quarters for it to become evident, but we think it is inevitable.
--Jon Peddie, one of the pioneers of the graphics industry, formed Jon Peddie Research (JPR) to provide consulting and market forecasting services. Peddie lectures at conferences on such topics as graphics technology and the emerging trends in digital media. Peddie is also an author of several books. His most recent book is The History of Visual Magic in Computers (at Amazon).