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The Intel display at the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas


Of the thousands of show-floor booths at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Intel is perhaps the most useful for anyone looking for clues as to where the technology industry is headed.

Here, in a massive show space decorated with dozens of large multi-coloured cubes, the company whose chips power many of the world's most popular electronics is demonstrating everything from 3-D movie creation to wireless, high-definition content streaming.

But behind the snazzy display booths, the tech industry's bellwether is moving full-force into the tablet market, all but confirming that the industry will spend 2011 aggressively pushing mobile computers to the consumer market.

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"The biggest surprise [of 2010]was what Apple has done generating a frenzy around tablets," Tom Kilroy, the vice-president in charge of Intel's sales and marketing, said in an interview.

"We already had our eyes on smart TV … and car technology, but the tablet area really caught our attention."

Intel's highlight announcement at this year's convention was the official launch of Sandy Bridge, the second generation of the company's powerful chip line for desktops and laptops. The new chips were designed specifically for high-end gaming and entertainment (Many of the advances relate to how the processor displays graphics and video. For example, Intel included new security and authentication technology in its newest chips partially designed to assuage movie studios' fears about the online rental of high-definition video content).

But perhaps equally important is the launch of Oak Trail, the next generation of Intel Atom chips, designed for mobile devices. Mr. Kilroy said a number of new, Intel-powered tablets are scheduled for release later this year.

Globe @ CES

Tablets represent perhaps the most lucrative - if tricky - new revenue stream for Intel. The company is also pursuing Internet-connected TVs, partnering with the likes of Google and Logitech, as well as markets such as car entertainment systems.

But with tablets, Intel executives still maintain that the rise of the mobile devices doesn't threaten the company's core desktop and laptop chip markets. Mr. Kilroy was careful to point to a distinction between tablets, which he says are fuelled by consumers' "content addiction" - the desire to create and consume media - and the kind of processor-intensive tasks that are still overwhelmingly done on high-end desktops and laptops.

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"For myself, and I'm not a very sophisticated user, the tablet still has a lot of limitations," Mr. Kilroy said, arguing the devices are best suited to content consumption.

Still, Mr. Kilroy added he expects the category to do particularly well this year, as Intel teams up with Microsoft and Google, among other partners, to launch Windows and Android tablets to compete with Apple's iPad.

"We're very bullish on the tablets segment," he said. "It's very good for the industry as a whole."

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