When Apple Inc unveiled its iPad last month, one crucial detail almost got drowned out in the hoopla: the new tablet computer will b
e powered by an in-house chip called the A4.

While Apple likely will not market the chip publicly, analysts say the new processor underscores how rival chip designs may eventually win out over Intel Corp's designs in the emergent hot category of mobile devices like smartphones and tablets.

Intel says the first smartphones using its chips go on sale by 2010's second half, as it tries to stake out a corner in the wireless market and replicate what it did for the formerly red-hot netbook category it now almost completely dominates.

But analysts point to an uphill battle against Nvidia Corp, Marvell and Qualcomm Inc, already making headway with cheaper, low-power processors based on designs by ARM Holdings PLC.

"They (Intel) don't have a track record in delivering these types of chips," said Wedbush Morgan analyst Patrick Wang. "They haven't been successful in the past, and they're trying to get in."

Not much is known of the A4 -- the brainchild of Apple design teams including recently acquired PA Semi -- except that it gives the iPad a long battery life and is considered comparable to rival processors in both speed and performance.

That Apple went its own way illustrates how specialized chip design may be more suitable for the burgeoning mobile market than Intel's do-everything approach.

The difficulty, analysts say, is Intel keeps trying to average its x86 technology, on which the more powerful processors that drive eight out of 10 personal computers worldwide is based.

"If you look at the stuff Intel's put out there at previous press events and developer forums, you see mobile Internet devices that are kind of clunky, really thick, low-battery life type of devices," Wang said. "They've been worried."

Intel-based tablet laptops have been sold without huge success for nearly a decade. Apple uses Intel chips in its Macintosh personal computers and servers.

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