NEW YORK (Reuters) - Apple's iPad is finally about to get some real competition. At least according to Jen-Hsun Huang, co-founder and chief executive of chip designer Nvidia.
In under three years, he says tablets using Google's Android platform -- and his company's processors -- could overtake Apple Inc's red-hot iPad as improved versions and more applications hit the market.
That would be about how long it took smartphones running Google's Android software to overtake the iPhone.
"The Android phone took only two and a half years to achieve the momentum that we're talking about. I would expect the same thing on Honeycomb tablets," Huang told the Reuters Technology Summit in New York on Monday.
Sportscar enthusiast Huang said tablets using new versions of Android, including Honeycomb, would outsell iPads as developers create and improve more games and other software for them.
The maker of graphics chips for PCs became a Wall Street darling this year with the launch of its Tegra 2 processors, establishing it as a major player in high-end smartphones and tablets by manufacturers like Samsung and Motorola Mobility.
But with stiff competition from the iPad 2, some investors question whether Apple's lead in tablets is too big for Android-based tablets to catch up.
With its touchscreen and on-demand applications, Apple's iPhone set the standard for smartphones when it was launched in 2007.
But phones using Android now outsell iPhones and are increasingly popular in China and other emerging markets.
Huang said Nvidia's next-generation mobile processor, code named Kal-El, has already won spots in several devices planned by major PC and phone manufacturers, including phones, tablets and low-powered laptops.
"It's got to be at least 10. We have five major phone companies and we have five major PC (manufacturers)," he said.
Kal-El will boast quad-core processing and higher-resolution graphics as competitors Qualcomm and Texas Instruments also gear up to launch new tablet chips.
Santa Clara, California-based Nvidia is racing to build its mobile business as competition heats up in its traditional business of designing graphics chips for PCs.
It posted stronger-than-expected results and guidance last week, but its shares slumped 11 percent in the following session as investors focused on a sluggish growth outlook for PC graphics, which generate two-thirds of the company's revenue.
Rivals Intel and Advanced Micro Devices have launched central processors with integrated graphics this year, which might erode demand for Nvidia's low-end chips, and some consumers are buying tablets instead of PCs.
But shares of Nvidia have gained about 35 percent over the past six months, largely due to optimism about its small but expanding Tegra chip business.
Apple tightly controls the design of its gadgets and the software that runs on them in order to deliver very specific experiences to its customers.
But Google gives away Android for free to manufacturers, who use it on their own smartphones and tablets.
"As a result of so many different parties working together, the first versions tend to be a bit clumsy to roll out. However, as is the nature of these organic industries with very, very large players, you have continuous improvement at a very rapid pace," Huang said.
"Everyone recognized the shortcomings of Honeycomb 3.0, jumped in working on Honeycomb 3.1, and if you haven't had a chance to oplay with it -- it's just delightful," he added.