The combination of x86 microprocessors and Microsoft Windows operating system has been dominating the world of personal computers for decades already. Unfortunately for Intel Corp. and Microsoft Corp., the situation will be quite different on the market of media tablets, according to analysts. For many years down the road, the market of slates will be dominated by ARM system-on-chips as well as Apple's iOS or Google Android platforms.
Shipments of tablet PCs with ARM processors are expected to grow 211% year-over-year in 2011 to 59.9 million units, while tablet PCs with x86 processors are not expected to experience strong growth until 2013, according to a report by DisplaySearch. Similarly, Windows 8, which is also associated with mobile PCs, is not expected to take significant share until 2013. Global tablet shipments are expected to reach nearly 330 million units by 2017, up from less than 60 million units in 2011.
"The tablet PC and notebook PC markets are on a collision course as both product categories continue to evolve and improve on their respective weaknesses. As such, each product category will influence the other over time. Still, the incumbent platforms have inherent advantages in the early years," said Richard Shim, a senior analyst at DisplaySearch.
More brands will challenge Apple for a share of the tablet PC market and are expected to experiment with the various platforms available to them in the market. PC brands are likely to gravitate toward the familiar - Windows and x86 platforms - with some branching out towards the ARM platform as well. The emergence of Amazon as a tablet hardware vendor introduces even more non-Windows and non-x86 thinking into the tablet PC ecosystem, requiring players like Microsoft and Intel to catch up to the changing landscape of consumer computing.
"Although several processor architectures could be used to power tablet SoCs, the rich software ecosystem of the ARM architecture built around smart phones is proving to be a key differentiating factor. Unlike notebook and netbook PCs, where consumers have chosen products based on the processor or PC vendor, consumers of new mobile devices care more about what they can do with the devices, which is associated more with the device applications and services," said Jim McGregor, chief technology strategist for In-Stat.
Ultimately the developer community and the apps they create will play a significant role in the success of any emerging platform.
DisplaySearch believes that cellular connectivity could be a potential catalyst for shipment growth and will be an influential technology in the growth of the tablet category. The share of tablets with embedded cellular connectivity will reach about 10% in 2013 and will exceed 25% by 2017, according to rather conservative predictions of the analysts.