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With the iPad in the market and a host of Linux or Windows tablets to follow, all eyes are on Google's response. Its upcoming Chrome OS, which is entirely geared to mobile browsers, will be important in the new hybrid formats between phone and PC. But before those 'cloudbooks' debut later this year, Android is also expected to appear on a tablet soon.

Google CEO Eric Schmidt hinted to the New York Times that Google was working on its own Android tablet rather than relying on third party vendors alone - a tactic it has already tried, with limited success, in smartphones, with the Nexus One launch. However, given that the tablet is an emerging category, Google may want to ensure it dominates it under its own brand, and turns the format to its vision of browser-oriented, cloud-based activities - rather than the downloaded content that is the centrepiece of iPad.

Other tablets expected around midyear are a MeeGo device from Nokia, the HP Slate, Dell's Streak and Lenovo's already announced IdeaPad s10-3 - and we are still waiting to see Microsoft's two-screened Courier concept platform turn into a commercial product.

At the chip level, the tablet will be a key testing ground in the battle between the Intel x86 and the ARM processor architectures. ARM licensees like Qualcomm and Freescale are edging into Intel's PC territory via hybrid devices like e-readers and the new smartbook designs, while Intel is pushing its low powered x86 platform, Atom, into ARM's smartphone heartland, again hoping to use tablets and other 'in-between' products as a conduit.

Although Intel has its own chip/OS combination - Atom and MeeGo, the latter in conjunction with Nokia - optimized for netbooks and tablets, it cannot ignore other operating systems. In netbooks, Windows remains dominant over Linux, and in the new formats, Android could be a major player. This week, Intel announced it had ported the Google OS to Atom, targeting smartphones and slates. Renee James, general manager of Intel's software and services group, told EETimes, at the Intel Developer Forum in Beijing, that there were already interested customers for Atom/Android. "Intel is enabling all OSs for Atom phones," she said. LG is the first vendor to show an Atom-based smartphone, the GW990, which will ship in the summer, though this will run MeeGo.

Some vendors have moved a step ahead of Intel with their own ports. Acer put Android on Atom netbooks last year.

Copyright © 2010, Wireless Watch

Wireless Watch is published by Rethink Research, a London-based IT publishing and consulting firm. This weekly newsletter delivers in-depth analysis and market research of mobile and wireless for business. Subscription details are here.

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