Intel bets big on thin PCs and phones at CES 2013

Las Vegas sign
8 Jan, 2013

Chip maker uses consumer electronics summit to show off new energy efficient technologies and laptops.

Intel announced the release of a new low-power chip and showed off next-generation ultra thin laptops and convertible tablets at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas yesterday.

The chip maker said new energy-efficient processors for tablets and laptops are available now, and it outlined features like voice recognition and drastically improved battery life on future PCs.

"Absolutely all-day battery life where you just don't have to bring your power brick at all any more," Kirk Skaugen, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, said of laptops built with the company's upcoming Haswell processor.

We're going to give the PC the same human senses we've all had.

While macroeconomic troubles have weighed on sales for several quarters, the growing popularity of tablets and smartphones is seen as an existential threat to the PC industry.

Anxious to breathe new life into PCs and prove a recent slump in sales is not permanent, Intel and PC manufactures in Las Vegas will display a range of ultra thin laptops, dubbed Ultrabooks, and hybrid devices that convert into tablets.

On a stage flanked by dozens of tablets and laptops with rotatable and detachable screens, Skaugen said Intel's newly available chip based on its current Ivy Bridge architecture sips just 7 watts of energy, more efficient than a previously planned 10 watts of power.

PC world

The Santa Clara, California-based company has long been king of the PC chip market, particularly through its historic "Wintel" alliance with Microsoft, which led to breathtakingly high profit margins and an 80 per cent market share.

But it has struggled to adapt its powerful PC processors for battery-powered smartphones and tablets, a fast-growing market led by Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics, ARM Holdings and others.

Mike Bell, who co-heads Intel's mobile and wireless business, introduced a new processor platform, code named Lexington, targeted at low-priced smartphones in emerging markets like Latin America and Asia.

"It's designed to be a no-excuses multimedia phone," he said.

Acer, Safaricom and Lava have already agreed to use the new chips in future phones, Bell said.

A handful of manufacturers and telecom carriers in Europe and Asia have already launched smartphones using Intel's Medfield processors this year. Google's Motorola Mobility in September launched the Razr i in Europe and Latin America as the first handset of a multi-device agreement between the two groups.

But Intel is fighting an uphill battle in a market where chips made using technology from ARM Holdings have become ubiquitous. Intel also has yet to release a chip for 4G telephone networks, keeping it out of the running for major smartphone design wins in the United States.

Sales of smartphone processors soared 58 per cent in the third quarter, but Intel had just 0.2 per cent of that market, according to a recent report from Strategy Analytics.

By comparison, worldwide PC shipments fell 8.6 percent in the third quarter, according to IDC.

Intel said 3D cameras would be integrated in future Ultrabooks to allow consumers to use gestures and facial recognition to control their devices. Upcoming Ultrabooks will also include voice interaction, Skaugen said.

"We're basically going to give the PC the same human senses we've all had," he said.