Rockchip aims for Android 4.0 tablets under $100

Chip maker for inexpensive Chinese tablets hopes to bring sub-$100 tablet to the U.S., Europe and Japan

A company making ARM processors used in inexpensive Chinese tablets hopes to make a splash in the U.S. and Europe this year and drive down prices of Android 4.0 tablets to under US$100.

Chinese chip maker Rockchip will show close to 40 prototype tablets running Android 4.0 and Adobe Flash 11 at next week's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. The tablets will be based on the company's RK2918 chip.

Rockchip's ARM-based chips power some inexpensive tablets from China that sell on eBay and other sites. Chinese tablets, some of which are iPad knock-offs, serve basic Web surfing needs, but lack hardware and software support. Rockchip also supplies parts for products from Apple and Samsung, but with tablet shipments rising, the chip maker hopes to raise its profile and sell its new ARM-based chip in Europe and the Americas.

Tablets with Android 4.0 based on Rockchip will come to the U.S., Europe and Japan later in the quarter, said Yan Yan Xing, a Rockchip spokeswoman. A 7-inch tablet with the new Rockchip chip may be priced at $95 to $125, while a 10-inch tablet could be $150 to $200. The prices are variable though, she said.

"We do know that the Rockchip product will make these tablets competitive, in terms of pricing," a U.S. representative for the company said in an email.

A sub-$100 tablet based on a MIPS processor with Android 4.0 and a 7-inch capacitive screen surfaced late last year in China, but notable tablets with the fastest processors are still priced above $250. Acer this week introduced the dual-core Iconia Tab A200 starting at $329.99, while the most advanced quad-core Asus Eee Pad Transformer Prime is priced between $500 to $600. An exception is the Amazon Kindle Fire, which is $199.

But the sub-$100 price could be a breakthrough for users looking for new ARM-based tablets with the latest Android OS. Users have complained about application compatibility issues on the Android 4.0 MIPS tablet, which could be resolved on the tablets with Rockchip chips as Android development revolves around ARM processors. Questions however remain if the new tablets with Rockchip chips will surpass the quality of the inexpensive Chinese tablets.

The demand for Android 4.0 will spur growth in tablet shipments, which will help Rockchip expand worldwide, the company said. But the chip maker has to contend with larger chip makers such as Nvidia, Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, which make ARM-based tablet chips, and Intel, which offers x86 tablet chips.

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