Earlier this month, rumors out of China indicated that we’d see Google Chrome OS devices running on Nvidia’s Tegra platform. I had a product briefing with Mike Rayfield, Nvidia’s GM of Mobile Business, and heard it directly from the source. When chatting about supported platforms on the Tegra solution, the usual names appeared — Windows Mobile, Windows CE, and Google Android. Oh, and Google Chrome OS too.
Nvidia is “working closely with Google,” on the Chrome OS platform Rayfield tells me. And that stressed to me that Tegra isn’t just a handheld device play. Of course, Rayfield reiterated that point when discussing where Nvidia sees Tegra in the future. It’s a two-pronged approach: Windows Mobile and Google Android support in the smartphone space; Windows CE and Google Chrome OS in the smartbook or netbook space. Linux variants could work as well, but that decision would likely be driven by OEMs desires.
I’ve used netbooks since they were born, so we also chatted about the products of today as compared to what’s coming down the pike. By and large, the netbook space is Intel’s playground right now, but Nvidia sees the devices as “dehydrated laptops.” Consumers still want support for x86 and Windows, but why? It’s all in the application support these days, but with the rise of the web as “the ultimate app store,” Nvidia is poised for the shift.
That led to some shared experiences with my 60-day web challenge from last year. In it, I lived in a web browser on a low-powered UMPC for nearly 99% of my computing time over two months. Indeed, it was a challenge, but the effort — and the proliferation of smartphones — are starting to indicate that people can happily compute in bite-sized chunks: a quick check mail here, a five minute YouTube video there, and so on. If that trend continues, will people need full desktop operating systems and bloated apps on a mobile device?
Nvidia doesn’t think so, at least as far as Tegra is concerned. A web-based or lightweight mobile operating system that can offer web consumption in small bits as needed might be the perfect situation for an energy efficient CPU. It’s happening now with the iPhone and other smartphones, so why not in smartbooks and the like? Google’s Chrome OS might be the perfect companion to Tegra in such devices.
It’s not all about the web, though. Media playback is desirable and can be processor intensive. So far, it looks like Tegra excels at high-def media playback based on my limited time with a ZuneHD review unit sent by Nvidia. And it does so at minimal power when compared to the current Atom solutions. Video playback sips juice at one watt or less, Rayfield says, while power consumption is several magnitudes higher with Atom, even as the experience is less optimal. When you combine HD output, low powered processing and a power efficient chipset, you get a relatively inexpensive, portable computing experience.
Rayfield thinks that mobile device differences generally revolve around the display, input method and connectivity. With the right operating system and hardware design, Nvidia sees Tegra as a powerful player in this space. Granted, I’m a guy that lives on the web for a living, so an energy efficient device with a great browser, keyboard and display is right up my alley. But I have a feeling that in the not too distant future, there will be many more people looking for the same experience.
[Note: I'll have more say about the ZuneHD in the next few days.]