By Noel Randewich
LAS VEGAS (Reuters) - Top chipmaker Intel Corp on Monday announced shipments of a new low-power chip and showed off next-generation ultra thin laptops and convertible tablets in its latest bid to prove that the struggling PC industry still has a bright future.
At the 2013 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas , Intel said new energy-efficient processors for tablets and laptops are available now, and it outlined features like voice recognition and drastically improved battery life on future PCs.
"Absolutely all-day battery life where you just don't have to bring your power brick at all anymore," Kirk Skaugen, corporate vice president and general manager of Intel's PC Client Group, said of laptops built with the company's upcoming Haswell processor.
While macroeconomic troubles have weighed on sales for several quarters, the growing popularity of tablets and smartphones is seen as an existential threat to the PC industry.
Anxious to breathe new life into PCs and prove a recent slump in sales is not permanent, Intel and PC manufactures in Las Vegas this week will display a range of ultra thin laptops, dubbed Ultrabooks, and hybrid devices that convert into tablets.
On a stage flanked by dozens of tablets and laptops with rotatable and detachable screens, Skaugen said Intel's newly available chip based on its current Ivy Bridge architecture sips just 7 watts of energy, more efficient than a previously planned 10 watts of power.
The Santa Clara, California-based company has long been king of the PC chip market, particularly through its historic "Wintel" alliance with Microsoft Corp, which led to breathtakingly high profit margins and an 80 percent market share.
But it has struggled to adapt its powerful PC processors for battery-powered smartphones and tablets, a fast-growing market led by Qualcomm Inc, Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, ARM Holdings Plc and others.
Mike Bell, who co-heads Intel's mobile and wireless business, introduced a new processor platform, code named Lexington, targeted at low-priced smartphones in emerging markets like Latin America and Asia.
"It's designed to be a no-excuses multimedia phone," he said.
Acer, Safaricom and Lava have already agreed to use the new chips in future phones, Bell said.
A handful of manufacturers and telecom carriers in Europe and Asia have already launched smartphones using Intel's Medfield processors this year. Google's Motorola Mobility in September launched the Razr i in Europe and Latin America as the first handset of a multi-device agreement between the two groups.
But Intel is fighting an uphill battle in a market where chips made using technology from ARM Holdings have become ubiquitous. Intel also has yet to release a chip for 4G telephone networks, keeping it out of the running for major smartphone design wins in the United States.
Sales of smartphone processors soared 58 percent in the third quarter, but Intel had just 0.2 percent of that market, according to a recent report from Strategy Analytics.
By comparison, worldwide PC shipments fell 8.6 percent in the third quarter, according to IDC.
Intel said 3D cameras would be integrated in future Ultrabooks to allow consumers to use gestures and facial recognition to control their devices. Upcoming Ultrabooks will also include voice interaction, Skaugen said.
"We're basically going to give the PC the same human senses we've all had," he said.
Intel and other tech companies are increasingly looking for ways to let PCs and other devices use cameras, GPS chips, microphones and other kinds of sensors to predict their users' needs.
"It's this combination of computer devices doing things before you ask them to do it, in that they're smart enough to know based on their sensors," said Patrick Moorhead, principal analyst at Moor Insights & Strategy.
(Reporting By Noel Randewich; Editing by Dan Grebler)
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