At Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) Developer Forum, it was clear that Intel still had a ways to go before it would be ready to ship systems with its latest 22 nanometer silicon running the Android platform. While the test devices there ran most Android applications just fine, there were some compatibility issues (the OpenCL portion of the Vellamo benchmark, for example, didn't work).
In addition, the tablets did crash occasionally. Intel's personnel assured the press and analysts at the event that these kinks would be worked out for a late 2013 launch. However, a recent report from VR-Zone indicates that these issues have yet to be worked out. Does this mean all is lost for Intel's latest Android tablet push this cycle?
The big names are out
Bay Trail is the codename for Intel's latest Z3000 series Atom processors. These chips are found in Windows 8.1 tablets today, such as the ASUS Transformer Book T100 and the Dell Venue 8 Pro, and generally offer best-in-class CPU performance/watt along with pretty good graphics performance (although not leadership). While it's clear that just about every Windows 8.1 tablet will feature this processor (as AMD's offerings have yet to become competitive), the picture is looking increasingly grim for this platform's future on Android
Indeed, the Android tablet processor shipment volume is now largely dominated by Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) and Samsung (OTC:SSNLF). Qualcomm powers the "big name" wins like the Google Nexus 7 and the Amazon Kindle Fire HDX, while Samsung powers many of its own branded tablets (although the LTE versions of many of its tablet devices come with Qualcomm silicon).
NVIDIA (NASDAQ:NVDA), which formerly had the Nexus 7 win, has had some difficulty winning the higher-end sockets with its Tegra 4, but has at least made an aggressive push in the lower-end whitebox tablets overseas, as well as with its own Tegra Note line of tablets.
For this generation, at least, it looks as though Intel is out of the Android tablets that really matter, but not all is lost.
The smaller name tablets are coming
On Intel's most recent conference call, CEO Brian Krzanich noted that 20-25 of the designs in the pipeline built around Android were based on the Bay Trail platform. While those designs have yet to be announced, it doesn't seem likely that Intel's CEO would outright lie to investors; the designs are most assuredly coming.
Now, it's also likely that these won't be "big-name" devices, and it's not exactly confidence-inspiring to see Intel almost completely miss the holiday shopping season with the timing of its platform launch, but this should translate into some incremental revenue nonetheless, particularly if the tablets are sold at aggressive prices during Black Friday.
Intel needs to accelerate its Android efforts
Intel is still new to Android, so it's not a surprise that the company is still going through some real growing pains in trying to successfully develop platforms for Android (in addition to modifying Android appropriately to work on its X86 chips). However, this level of execution is simply unacceptable for a company whose core PC business is seeing significant headwinds. Intel, at the end of the day, needs to become a leader in this space. That means winning a Nexus tablet or an Amazon Kindle Fire HDX.
The sale prices of these chips aren't high, so in order to offset PC revenue declines, Intel can't afford not to be a volume leader in tablets. Intel's silicon is getting much better and its timetables much more aggressive, but it still isn't quite where it needs to be in order to be a true "leader".
That being said, Intel is hosting its analyst day later this month where it will outline its plans to achieve dominance in this space. Intel investors had better hope that "acceleration" is a key focus from the management team, otherwise 2014 could be yet another "missed it by that much" year.