The major announcements from CES 2013

NVIDIA takes the wraps off Tegra 4

NVIDIA used CES to formally announce its latest mobile processor offering, Tegra 4. Tegra 4 is the first quad-core implementation of ARM’s Cortex-A15 and has an improved power-saving core, a feature first introduced with Tegra 3. NVIDIA makes some bold claims regarding the new platform’s performance over the last generation. It boasts 2.6x faster browsing and increased performance for apps. The platform has 72 GPU cores, a six-fold increase over Tegra 3, delivering better graphics performance for gaming. For NVIDIA, it is essential that any improvements in processing power do not impact on battery life. NVIDIA claims that Tegra 4 uses 45% less power than Tegra 3 ‘in common use cases’, claiming the platform is good for 14 hours of HD video playback on a smart phone. NVIDIA has led with design wins in the pad space; however, the current trend of commoditization and pressure to hit low price points has seen the volume in the market driven by a select few – Amazon, Google and Apple. Google’s Nexus 7 has proved to be the company’s biggest hit so far, but in the face of falling prices, $199 is starting to look expensive. With Texas Instruments exiting mobile and focusing on embedded, an opportunity to drive significant volume with Amazon will soon be available. However, the majority of consumers are making purchasing decisions based on price rather than specification.

If NVIDIA focuses on the premium pad market, it risks pricing itself out of a deal with Amazon and losing further opportunities to lower-cost semiconductor vendors. Tegra 4 has the option of an LTE soft modem from Icera, a company that NVIDIA acquired in 2011. Despite glowing reviews for pad hardware, NVIDIA has yet to make a similar impact in the smart phone space. NVIDIA will hope that, with the inclusion of LTE, it can wrestle market share away from Qualcomm. Power consumption will be a critical factor here, however: with Qualcomm providing integrated cellular modems with Snapdragon, it is likely that power consumption on Tegra 4 will be higher. NVIDIA is known to be working on integrating the Icera modem technology on a single chip and it will have to wait until this comes to fruition in order to be competitive in the smart phone space.

Intel announces new processors and updates Ultrabook spec

Intel took to the stage at CES 2013 with numerous announcements detailing its strategy for pads and Ultrabooks. Intel talked up Bay Trail, a quad-core Atom processor, which will increase battery life and processing power for pads and be in products by Q4 2013. It also announced a new low power SKU, available immediately, achieved by reducing clock speed of its current Core family. This will enable thinner products and better battery life but will come at the expense of processing power. A lower power SKU was scheduled to arrive with Haswell at the end of 2013 or early 2014, but Intel opted to bring it forward. The focus on power consumption is an indication of the mounting pressure Intel is feeling from the success of pads and a lengthening of the PC replacement cycle. Intel continues to play catch up in the world of low power processors, making incremental steps towards the competition. Intel’s problem, however, is that NVIDIA and Qualcomm continue to innovate. Intel also announced two new mandatory requirements for Ultrabooks that are due to ship with its Haswell processor family.

Acer announces the Iconia B1

Acer has announced the launch of the Iconia B1 – a new, low cost pad. Acer is positioning the B1 as a pad suited for first time buyers in high growth markets or as an additional device for children. The standout feature of the B1 is its price point, although the exact price is yet to be confirmed, Acer has indicated that it will be below $150. This will price the product below both Amazon’s Kindle Fire ($159/$179 without ads) and Google’s Nexus 7 ($199). To achieve such a low price point sacrifices have been made in its hardware specification.

The B1 has a specification similar to that of the Kindle Fire. It is due to launch in high growth Asian and South American markets first, where some retailers will be offering the product as a special offer for $99. It is in these markets where the B1 is expected to see most success. Looking at the success of the Kindle Fire and Nexus 7, it is clear that there is demand for low cost pads from trusted brand names.

Lenovo announces the Horizon

Lenovo has used CES 2013 to announce a range of new touch-based Windows 8 products aimed at both businesses and consumers.

The most interesting addition to Lenovo’s product line is a 27″ touch-screen all-in-one desktop – the Horizon. The Horizon is capable of lying flat on any surface, allowing two or more people to use the screen simultaneously. Lenovo refers to it as a ‘Table PC’. With an estimated starting price of $1,699, it is significantly more expensive than Sony’s VAIO Tap 20, a similar product which can be bought for $879. But Lenovo has made a considerable effort to differentiate the Horizon. Most notable is the inclusion of the Aura UI, which is activated when the Horizon is laid flat. Aura provides a user interface that is suited to a multiuser computing experience built around the Horizon’s 10-point multi-touch screen. Educational applications and games are being heavily promoted with the Horizon. It is bundled with a number of gaming accessories, including an e-dice, four joysticks and strikers (paddles). The Horizon’s larger screen, bundled gaming accessories and apps from Ubisoft, Electronic Arts and BlueStacks offer additional value, going some way to offset the high price. The Horizon and similar products have the potential to provide users with a novel and engaging shared computing experience.

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