Tablet PCs to dominate Taipei computer show

Intel will battle ARM for a slice of the burgeoning tablet market at the annual Taiwan exhibition

Tablet PCs will dominate the massive Computex trade show in Taipei next week, where top brands and obscure white-box makers will show new models of the popular devices, including some that run on Intel's new Oak Trail mobile processor.

As many as 50 of the 1,800 exhibitors at the annual tech show will display new tablets that will be aimed at buyers of all income levels, said Thomas Huang, director in chief of the exhibition for the Taiwan External Trade Development Council.

About 40 percent of the buyers expected at Computex will come from frontier markets such as Brazil, China and India, Huang said. Tablet PCs were much talked about at last year's show after the success of Apple's iPad launch, but there were few alternatives on sale at the time.

"I think there will be low-priced tablets as the manufacturers from China are quite numerous," Huang said. "We would call that an important part of the show."

Click here to watch some video highlights from last year's Computex.

Some of the tablets will use Intel's first Atom processor designed expressly for tablets, code-named Oak Trail. It's an important chip for Intel, which is trying to wrest control of the nascent market from ARM-based processors.

"We can expect to see various flavors of Oak Trail tablets," said Navin Shenoy, a company Asia-Pacific vice president and general manager.

Oak Trail, properly called the Atom Z670, combines several processing units on a single chip, including a CPU, graphics core and video decoder. Fujitsu, one of the earliest adopters, said this month it was already taking orders for its Oak Trail-powered tablets.

But Taiwanese tablet vendors, including world No. 2 PC maker Acer and its cross-town rival Asustek Computer, said they did not plan to show new tablets at Computex. Some vendors said it was too early, and were eying Oak Trail tablet announcements for later in the year.

Taiwan's Micro-Star International's first Oak Trail tablet will come out at the end of 2011, after being pushed back by a change in Intel's schedule, said Sambora Chern, senior director of MSI's notebook sales. Intel wouldn't say if it had changed its timeline for Oak Trail releases.

While dozens of vendors are now selling tablets, most have found it hard to make a dent in Apple's huge share of the market, which Canalys Research put at 74 percent for the first three months of the year. Some hope that Oak Trail, which should offer longer battery life and better performance than previous Atom chips, will help them differentiate their products.

"We need to think of a way to overtake Apple and come up with something that's not just the same," Chern said.

Many of the tablets on display at Computex will come from lesser-known sellers based in China, said Tracy Tsai, principal analyst with market research firm Gartner in Taipei.

Some will look like the iPad on the outside but lack the sophisticated engineering within, Tsai said. That could mean less instantaneous reaction from touchscreen displays, but the devices should still work well for tasks like watching movies and browsing the Web, she said.

"They will be sold in developing countries and emerging countries with different buying power than in developed countries," said Ian Peng, mobile PC analyst with DigiTimes Research in Taipei, anticipating unit prices as low as US$150 once they reach consumers.

Computex runs officially from May 31 to June 4. It's expected to draw 37,000 buyers, up from 35,000 last year, and besides tablets will showcase the latest in digital storage, computer displays, e-book readers, home networking, game equipment and other gear.

Intel's Sean Maloney, the joint head of the Intel Architecture Group, is due to make his first big public appearance since suffering a stroke at his home earlier last year. Maloney will give the opening keynote speech next Tuesday.

Another Computex theme will be the "Internet of things," in which digital processing power is embedded into all manner of everyday devices, such as refrigerators, automobiles and water heaters.

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