Ina Fried

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Intel Wants to Stay Inside Netbooks, Tablets

Intel, sensing a threat from the ever-widening variety of non-Wintel-based netbooks and tablets, has formed a separate business unit to focus on those two categories of devices.

The new unit, whose existence was first reported by the New York Times, comes as a wave of Android-based tablets hits the market and as Google announces the first beta test of Chrome OS-based netbooks.

The group will be headed up by Doug Davis (pictured here), an Intel vice president previously responsible for the embedded chip unit that helped get the Atom processor into cars and other nontraditional devices. Before forming the new unit, Intel had included its tablet and netbook effort within the same unit that handled all other PC chips.

“It’s just a matter of laying extra focus on that area,” said Intel spokesman Bill Kircos.

Intel has found its way into the vast majority of netbooks, led by the success of its Atom chips. Tablets, meanwhile, have been a different story. Apple’s iPad–the dominant force in the market–uses Apple’s ARM-based A4 processor, while Android tablets also use various non-Intel chips. Intel has been in Windows-based tablets since the first tablet PCs came out early last decade, but Windows 7-based touchscreen slates are just now coming to market. Microsoft has promised that more models will be coming, particularly next year once Intel’s Oak Trail processor is available.

“The weight of the PC industry is now targeting tablets,” spokesman Bill Kircos said, adding that the company expects 35 Intel-based tablets to come out in the first half of next year, along with about 65 netbooks using its processors.

Although Chrome OS is designed to run on a variety of processors, it is worth noting that the first model–an unbranded netbook for early testers–does use an Atom processor.

Although netbooks have faded from the spotlight with the rise of the iPad, Kircos said that Intel hopes to spark interest in the category by bringing over some features previously found only in full-fledged notebooks, such as Wireless Display (Wi-Di), which lets computers beam content wirelessly to a television with a special adaptor.

“We’ll be starting to innovate a lot more on the netbook,” he said.