One of the chief criticisms that I've had against Intel's (NASDAQ:INTC) tablet strategy has been the absence of Google (NASDAQ:GOOG) Android-based tablets powered by the latest Bay Trail (22-nanometer) silicon. Indeed, it is still impossible to buy a single Android tablet with these chips today. However, after an excruciating wait, it seems that there is light at the end of the tunnel.
ASUS and Acer designs popping up
While Acer seems to be uninterested in Intel smartphone platforms during 2014, both Acer and ASUS (which is interested in Intel's 2014 smartphone platforms) seem to be preparing Android tablets powered by Intel's Bay Trail platform. In particular, Acer's upcoming tablet – the A1-840 – looks to utilize Intel's Z3745, which is at the higher end of the Bay Trail product stack.
ASUS, too, appears to be preparing a tablet codenamed the ME176 which also uses the Z3745. The interesting thing is that this tablet (along with the aforementioned Acer) appears to be aimed at the $150 or so price point. Further, these tablets sport 1280x800 displays, 1GB of RAM, and 8GB of flash storage. For $150, and for the level of performance that a Z3745 should bring, this should actually be a pretty solid value.
This is strategically important
Right now, MediaTek, Allwinner, and Qualcomm (NASDAQ:QCOM) more or less own the tablet apps processor market. While Intel has some design wins over at ASUS, Acer, and Dell, these haven't turned out to be particularly high volume. Granted, these designs have been based on the older Clover Trail+ and have typically offered poor performance per dollar, so designs at the same price points with the much-improved Bay Trail processors should conceivably sell better.
More importantly, though, is that Intel needs to gain some pretty serious volume with its tablet chips. Without significant volume, Android developers won't target Intel's instruction set which will make Intel's push into Android devices (both tablets and phones) more difficult longer term. Conversely, if tablets open up the floodgates to make Intel's X86 a first class citizen on Android, this could put tablet and smartphone OEMs at ease when choosing Intel parts in the future.
Minimal impact to Qualcomm
Qualcomm is currently the leading smartphone and tablet merchant chip vendor. Since the smartphone market is vastly larger than the tablet market, and since Qualcomm's tablet presence appears principally in the "big brands" such as Samsung and Amazon.com, a flood of white-box tablets from traditional PC vendors doesn't exactly seem to pose a threat to Qualcomm's position in tablets this year.
A similar argument applies to MediaTek since most of its chips, once again, go into smartphones rather than tablets. However, since MediaTek is a lower end player, its position in tablets (many of which are the traditional "white-box" vendors that Intel is going after) is much more in jeopardy than Qualcomm's is. That said, MediaTek is still doing extremely well so investors in those shares really don't have much to worry about for the balance of 2014.
Foolish bottom line
It's better late than never for Intel's Bay Trail on Android, but this really does speak to Intel's poor execution in mobile. Android-powered Bay Trail tablets may very well hit the market share targets that Intel is looking to hit, but in order to extend that momentum profitably, it can't afford a several-month delay for the Android rollout of a new platform going forward.