MWC 2011 Barcelona, Spain
Day 2: 2/15/11
ARM Speaks about the Industry
Is Proximity the Next New Phone Feature, App and Service?
HTC does have a tablet, flyer, which was announced along with 6 new products. The tablet is unique in that it supports a stylist and finger touch which is capacitive based. A 1.4 GHz processor is within the product along with 32GB of storage on a 7″ screen. Under glass only. The product is due to ship at the end of Q1. The booth was just packed and hard to even see the unit which was buried in the case.
ARM Describes the Market Dynamics
An extended conversation was had with an EVP at ARM. The following was discussed.
ARM shipped 6.1B licensed products in 2010, of which 1.4B were in cell phones.
There are only 2,000 employees at ARM. It is a pure IP company.
CES 2011 was a major event that ARM had been preparing for over the last 6 years. That is, the coming of ARM in CE as a major player.
Time to Market is a major issue around ARM licensed cores. These companies complete aggressively to be the first to market and as a result fosters innovation and rapid developments. The OEMs for devices are driving the innovation into products, not the operators. The app developers pick up quickly on the opportunities.
An excellent example of this is the rapid adoption of the Dual Core A9 Cortex in phones. Another is the rapid acceptance of the Mali GPUs. This is being driven by the drive for high quality video output from smart phones and tablets. 1080p is where it is going. Tablets are playing a major role in the market as a source of video to the television but cell phones are also at this high end.
Game play on portable devices is rising to parallel the PC and consoles. The processing power is 50X in a pixel basis to output 1080p. In mobile devices the design has to be different due to the need to keep battery power down. ARM uses tile based architecture and tight integration with the CPU to achieve low power but this is still demanding. It is possible to manage power on a frame by frame basis with the ARM GPU cores. The mini-HDMI connector is the output of choice but some are working dongles to allow for wireless connection to the television.
To support HTML 5 ARM has been reviewing the code. It both improves how this is processed internally and it also suggests to software companies, such as Adobe, and its OEMs how to optimize designs for best performance.
Tablets are changing the market because they have a larger form factor, can support larger batteries and fit into the home environment. These are becoming a source of content at the same quality level expected in the home. The market has shifted away for the PC and even some traditional CE devices.
These observations are consistent with what was seen at CES. It is no longer about isolated devices be it a cell phone, a PC or a tablet. These are being integrated into how an individual uses, plays and interacts with content either delivered to or created by them. We used these observations by ARM as a trigger point to look at the media support on the devices on the floor. The ARM executive was right on.
Shown in the corner of the booth was a 1080p display with 5.1 sound driven by a Nokia N8 phone. The phone has come a long ways.
We have been skeptical of 3D. In the LG booth is the Optimus 3D smartphone. This has a 3D camera and the ability to play back 3D on the phone which is autosteroscopic. The playback, even in real time, on a large screen television requires glasses. Given the form factor we were surprised at the quality level. In part, this was related to how one could hold the device to observe the 3D on the small screen. Further, the phone is a full 1080p platform for 2D movies and uses the Cortex Dual Core A9 processor for 2X 1GHz.
The tablet is the G-Slate. We were impressed with the mapping quality and responsiveness. This is also a 1080p player. It also has a 3D camera built in.
In another corner of the booth was Personal Cloud Storage. This is a NAS device which is accessible over the network to any client – the phone, the tablet and the PC. The premise is that the most valuable cloud content is that which you have. A problem is that most of these devices, the phone and tablet, do not have a file system so that only content has much meaning.
CSR Talks Location
Shown in the booth was SiRF City a software application for phones which use the SiRF technology. The purpose of this product is to apply context awareness when driving in dense urban canyons to approve the geolocation accuracy. Basically the application stores map data in the area being driven. This is used to interpolate the likely position based on movement and the fact that one is driving on a road. This is what I described as probabilistic prediction of the path – CSR agreed. The objective is to significantly reduce multi path effect by understanding context. The software will use compass or gyro inputs if available. Note that the architecture is based on client server with the phone being the client.
CSR confirmed the earlier assessments of GPS in the phone. Their points include the following.
- The value of A-GPS is reduced TTFF. This takes the time down to 10-15 seconds. A cold start is where the power consumption happens – typically 65ma. It was claimed that WAAS SBAS would not improve the TTFF. As such, WAAS would not improve the power consumption.
- SiRF chips are increasing their presence in smart phones. RIM uses them, for example. Most of the Tier 1s are using SiRF, but no details were given.
- A side comment was made – they are seeing less emphasis on the OEMs about power minimization. No reason given.
In the booth it was called Walk SiRF. Demos were being shown of navigation on the show floor and traces on a map. A small screen device was the demo platform. It was implied that the planned product uses some of the MEMS technology of InvenSense. The unit has the same suite of sensors: accelerometers, gyros, compass and barometer. This latter was unique in inclusion of those seen at MWC. CRS recognizes that software is key to the performance of the unit and is continuing to work on this. The issues of self-calibration and noisy compass sensing are known. The product is due later in 2011.
In booth discussions it was stated that a combined SiRF GPS chip and Bluetooth dual mode is on the roadmap. This would provide a one chip state of the art sensing and Bluetooth product. But CSR did state that there are continuing internal debates if such a chip marriage is a good path. One of the arguments is that the maturation of the technologies is different. This results in chip updating which is more difficult to accomplish. That is, as Bluetooth LE evolves it is early to update a single Bluetooth chip than one which has the two technologies integrated.
Does Proximity Follow Location?
Tucked away in the CSR booth is LocalSocial a recent startup which is based on proximity association. Proximity between devices or locations can happen in many ways: WiFi, Bluetooth, or NFC. Bluetooth has the advantage of auto discovery while WiFi does not have this but it has much greater range. NFC requires a physical act but there is a direct association with a device. LocalSocial is building an infrastructure to support proximity which relates to retail and social networks. This is all about scale and for a startup this is acknowledged. Thus, they are seeking early test cases. One has been done in Dublin where a phone is placed in the establishment. This device just logs the devices which enter the store based on detection of Bluetooth. One store had 8000 entries; these could then be broken down into the same customer and frequency of visits. Just the tip of what proximity could enable. It was stated that proximity is at the market where location was 5 years ago. Location got a major boost when Apple included it in the iPhone and location was for free. That same spur is needed for proximity.
This could be happening with the inclusion of NFC in phones and in particular the next Android phones. An effort recently started by Google was described. They have sent kits out to retailers in Portland. This is assumed to be those which already participate in the local search services and advertising. These kits include an NFC tag which the merchant can place in the store. When an individual enters with a NFC equipped device they only need to pass it by the NFC tag. This opens potentially significant opportunities for coupons and the relationship between the buyer, store and Google.HotPot.
One other concept surfaced which was interesting. That is, what are the opportunities enabled by selling Bluetooth LE buttons. What if one could buy a package of 10 buttons in say WalMart for just a few dollars and these could run for 3 years on a button battery? The premise is that one could place these all over the house and with an app log them in to the location. Now the opportunities could be immense. Objects could be logged as they passed by a button. There are many more opportunities.
Low Cost Gesture Technology
Extreme Reality was showing gesture technology in the TI booth which is quite simple, only a VGA camera is used to detect the gestures. The 2D image is then converted to a 3D representation. Then the actions of the individual are interpreted. It was claimed this could provide full television control and the ability to control all apps on a smart phone. Two demos were being shown – short range on a cell phone and long range for the television. The technology seemed to work well but this was a difficult venue to evaluate the performance.
The HP tablet has compass, gyro and accelerometers embedded. A game was being shown which uses navigation based on the position of the tablet.
STMicroelectronics Shows Integrated Inertial Sensor Platform
STMicroelectronics highlighted the iNEMO Engine which is a 9 axis sensor platform. This included: 3 axis gyroscope, 6 axis compass, 3 axis accelerometer. There is also a pressure sensor. In the booth was a game demo which controls a bird in flight using these sensors. It was not as smooth as what was seen in the InvenSense booth.
We asked multiple times – what does the developer have access to on these chips and the API. STMicroelectronics was evasive. In the end they said we will work with the customer.
Olaworks Shows Camera Processing Technology
Focused on bringing the same technology associated with point and shoot cameras Olaworks was showing its technology for making picture taking more intelligent. They have a software engine which detects faces, detects smiles, does panoramas, does head tracking, face recognition, 3D face modeling and object tracking. Face tracking takes about 200MHz of processing on an ARM 9 core. They are supported already in phones from HTC, LG and Samsung.
The company also has ScanSearch technology which is machine vision to recognize objects. This is basically image matching. It consumes 600MHz of processing power in an ARM 9 processor.
At CES observations were made about the role that mobile devices are playing in the home CE environment. Here at MWC this has only been reinforced. ARM outlined this transition and it is obvious on the floor. Here are some business implications of this.
The tablet is an essential part of any mobile strategy. This was clear at CES and strongly reinforced here. A booth with mobile phones is incomplete without a tablet. It can also be said that the next important CE item is the television and that is already in many of the booths.
Targeting today’s phones as where the market will be in 18 months is a fallacy. The pace of GPU adoption, CPU performance and display quality continues to surprise. Even in the motion platform discussion here a full set of motion sensors is already assumed. The question is not if but where will it be in 18 months. With full motion support in Gingerbread this capability is already a given. We are at a threshold in significant applications built around location. Apple started this with built-in location and we are at the next threshold of much improved navigation which will first be seen in games.
Much is made about the fragmentation in the Android model. This is a fallacy. Assume fragmentation = differentiation. Given the common use of ARM CPUs and potentially GPUs the OEMs differentiate on time to market, UI refinements and applications which use their platform. ARM has captured the pressures in the market.
As was stated in the CES report the future is about how these devices are linked and operate together. At the keynote by Google CEO, Eric Schmidt, he painted a picture of linked devices via the cloud. This is getting close to personalized devices which migrate between devices based on use.
Proximity could be another new function and application frontier. NFC in phones is one enabler. Already Google in out in front here. Thus, any mobile strategy must look at proximity as just another capability in future phones. Google has made NFC a must.
The future business case is about strategy first and execution next. A strategic context of what is to be the competitive edge over a sustained period is critical. it is not just about making the phones which are seen here on the floor. This is not a platform strategy but an ecosystem strategy. Google clearly sees this and anything less will be non-competitive.
Eric Schmidt commented on how often his forecasts on technology and the pace of change are wrong. He continually underestimates. To undershoot the market pace and not build products which lead the market is the same as failure.