Technology from Intel, Marvell, and Nvidia is powering some intriguing alternatives to the imminent Apple tablet.
News about the Apple tablet, when it emerges, will likely blanket the Internet for some time after the device is announced, obscuring tablet efforts from rivals. Nevertheless, there will be at least a few designs that should warrant some attention. Here are some potential high-profile alternatives:
Intel and OpenPeak
The world's largest chipmaker (which, let's not forget, supplies millions of laptop and desktop processors to Apple every year) will, of course, not be a bystander in tablet competition. And one of its strongest contenders for this market is a future Atom chip codenamed "Moorestown."
In a recent interview at the Consumer Electronics Show, Pankaj Kedia, director of Intel's Global Ecosystems Program for Mobile Internet Devices and Smart Phones, said that the Moorestown "system-on-a-chip" processor will ship in the first half of this year. And during a CES keynote, Intel Chief Executive Paul Otellini brandished a tablet using Moorestown from a company called OpenPeak.
On Thursday, I posed some questions to Dan Gittleman, chief executive of OpenPeak, and Brian Woods, the company's chief marketing officer.
OpenPeak designs and develops products for companies like Verizon and Telefonica--two of its current customers. I asked Gittleman to describe how the tablet demonstrated at CES would be used. "We don't expect it to be a full PC replacement but rather a much more convenient platform for accessing a lot of services that you currently get on a PC: news, Facebook, weather, streaming music, casual games, etc.," he said in response to an e-mail query.
The tablet could also be "the ultimate control panel. A great security panel, baby/house monitor, home energy monitor," Gittleman said. Woods added that announcements of devices will happen "over the course of the next several months" and in the second half of the year.
Chip supplier Marvell
Marvell recently showed me a few tablet/e-reader devices that are powered by its Armada processors and other Marvell silicon such as its Wi-Fi chips. Allen Leibovitch, senior marketing manager for Marvell's application processor business, demonstrated the Alex Reader from Spring Design powered by a Marvell processor. (See: embedded YouTube video above.)
The Alex Reader combines an electronic paper display with an LCD. The LCD portion of the device is essentially a mini Android tablet. Alex Reader is expected to be available February 22 at a price of $399.
Leibovitch also gave me a tour of a bigger dual-screen device from Entourage. "It's half tablet, half e-book. In addition to being an e-reader, it's a full Android device, with a wide variety of Android apps," Leibovitch said, adding that both screens interact with each other--not unlike the Alex Reader. (Video here.)
Motorola-Verizon prototype tablet does Android
"One side is replacing a big stack of textbooks and the other side is replacing your laptop," he said, speaking about one of its target markets, education. The Entourage product is expected to be on the market in February at a price of $490.
Motorola-Verizon tablet powered by Nvidia's Tegra silicon
Though the Motorola-Verizon prototype tablet from Seattle-based ICD was covered at CES, it bears revisiting because Nvidia's Tegra 2 processor is expected to power a number of tablets that emerge later this year. (See embedded CNET video of tablet running Motorola-Verizon interface demo).
And just as Motorola's Droid smartphone offers a decent alternative to the iPhone, so might a Motorola tablet from Verizon offer up competition to an Apple tablet.
Updated at 12:50 p.m. PST: adding video of ICD tablet running Motorola-Verizon interface