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Nvidia May Get Bigger Boost From Tablets

NEW YORK ( TheStreet) -- The market for chips powering tablets and next-generation smartphones is heating up. Tablet sales are expected to exceed 100 million within the next two to three years.

Although Qualcomm (QCOM - Get Report) currently has the lead and Intel (INTC - Get Report) has placed intense focus on this market, Nvidia (NVDA - Get Report) is providing competition. But can Nvidia be a major player in powering mobile devices in an increasingly competitive market?

ARM (ARMH)-based chips are transitioning from powering the majority of smartphones into powering tablets as well. (Even Apple's (AAPL) A4 chip powering the iPhone/iPad is ARM-based.) Qualcomm's SnapDragon has long powered many of the of the leading smartphone devices. But Nvidia, with its ARM-based dual core Tegra chip, is increasingly becoming the go-to destination for next-gen tablets, and even some high-end smartphones. ( LG recently announced Tegra will power its soon-to-be-released tablet running a new version of Android.)

Nvidia, long known for its graphics processors, gambled on the emergence of new mobile devices requiring both processor and graphics capability. It licensed the ARM core and built a graphics engine into a chip set it promoted as being the most advanced low-power graphics-enabled processor available.

However, its efforts for the past year have gone largely without major success in the smartphone arena. (It did have a major win in Microsoft's (MSFT) KIN smartphones, but the devices failed to sell and were pulled off the market within weeks of launch.)

But tablets have larger screens and are much more media-centric than phones, and Nvidia's recent move to dual core and its enhanced graphics capability means it is finding new respectability. Its primary competitor, Qualcomm, has been successful with the SnapDragon in smartphones, but has fallen behind Nvidia in graphics and dual core. (Qualcomm will ship one shortly.)

And Qualcomm's reliance on a licensed graphics core from Imagination Technologies (which licenses its graphics cores to most ARM producers, including Apple and Intel) means Qualcomm does not completely control its own destiny. But Qualcomm's relationships with most of the smartphone vendors, and the fact that most smartphone vendors will also ship tablets shortly, may give it an incumbent's advantage.
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