Intel shrugs at tablets messing up PC, notebook sales

But if Apple or Sony wanted to partner on custom processors, the chipmaker 'wouldn't blink,' its CFO says.

Intel would happily make custom chips for Apple and other rivals, its CFO said Thursday, but hinted that the company doesn't believe the Apple iPad and similar tablets will make much of a dent in laptop sales and thus Intel's core processor business.

Instead, tablets are an "incremental device" with limited applications that appeal to upscale consumers, not the mass market or businesses, Stacy Smith said.

The chipmaker sees sales of notebook computers leaping ahead and with them, orders for full-powered processors.

According to Reuters, Smith said Intel would gladly use its manufacturing might to combine its proprietary architecture with other companies' technology, and might even consider making non-Intel cores for some customers.

"If Apple or Sony came to us and said 'I want to do a product that involves your IA (Intel architecture) core and put some of my IP around it', I wouldn't blink. That would be fantastic business for us," he said.

"Then you get into the middle ground of 'I don't want it to be a IA core, I want it to be my own custom-designed core,' and ... that would be a much more in-depth discussion and analysis," Smith said.

He spoke to reporters at an investor conference in London along with Christian Morales, head of Intel's operations in Europe, Middle East and Africa.

"The data is the data," Morales said. "The [highest sales] volumes are notebooks, then netbooks, then other devices."

Netbooks surged ahead in 2008-2010 because the economy was bad and they were cheap, Smith said. Now that the economy is starting to recover, netbook sales have tanked because consumers and businesses want real computers.

Even Apple is selling MacBooks at a faster clip than iPads, Smith said. The iPad runs on a Samsung processor, while Apple uses Intel Core2 processors for MacBooks.

In the worst-case scenario, tablets move ahead of netbooks late this year and might steal a third of the netbook business by 2013, he predicted.

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Lisa Greim

PC World (US online)
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