Netbooks have become a big business for Intel Corp., but company executives seem less bullish on tablet PCs even as Apple Inc.'s iPad boosts interest in the device category.
Some companies have already shown off other tablet-style computers using Atom CPUs from Intel, and those devices will have access to an Intel application download store similar to that run by Apple for its products including the iPad. But Intel executives interviewed this week gave only modest predictions for the growth of tablets, or handheld touchscreen devices often used to view multimedia and surf the Web.
"These new categories are hard to predict," said David Perlmutter, head of Intel's architecture group, at the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) in Beijing. "We're ready with technology to be able to support this market as it evolves."
Meanwhile, "netbooks continue with a very fast pace," he said. Intel plans to introduce a new dual-core version of the Atom this quarter that may be aimed at netbooks. The company this week said netbook shipments were leveling off at about 20 percent of all consumer laptop purchases.
Tablets may not grow like netbooks have in the last couple of years. Microsoft began trying to promote tablets years ago. Intel's app store, the AppUp Center, is designed for a range of devices using Atom CPUs, including netbooks and smartphones as well as tablets.
"This is by no means the first attempt at tablets," said Justin Rattner, the head of Intel Labs. It's more of a "third epoch" for the devices, he said.
"The jury is still out ... but this round seems to be getting close to a form factor that probably has some legs," he said.
Ian Yang, president of Intel China, said there are "a number" of Chinese companies working on tablets with Atom CPUs.
One Chinese company, Teso, has shown off an Atom-powered tablet PC designed to look like an oversized iPhone, complete with a glossy black shell and an iPhone-style single button below its screen.