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Summary:

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 […]

tegra_badgeEarlier 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.]

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  1. ChromeOS is likely to stimulate an explosive race to the cloud, for applications that currently run on the desktop.

    Why?

    If a user’s device is only capable of running web apps & your app isn’t available on the web, they’ll use your competitor’s web app. And, if enough people start using & liking your competitor’s web app, they may find little reason to use your app if/when you make it available on the web.

    One of the key benefits of moving to web apps is that, without any porting effort, they will run on:

    – any OS (Windows, OS X, Ubuntu, ChromeOS, Android, Moblin, iPhone, Symbian, WebOS, Blackberry, WinMo, …).
    – any device type (smartphones, netbooks, notebooks, desktops, tablets, eReaders, photo frames, carputers, …).
    – any CPU architecture (x86, ARM, MIPS, …).

    Plus:

    – web app improvements or bug fixes can be propagated to millions/billions of users instantaneously.
    – web apps can be offered for free/sale/subscription, to any user located anywhere in the world.

    The good thing is that HTML5 & WebGL are advancing quickly, so web app developers will be able to base their implementations on native browser standards, instead of proprietary, CPU & power-hungry plug-in technology like Flash & Silverlight.

  2. The current tegra seems like a bad fit for a chrome OS device since it has a very outdated cpu attached to a powerful (for mobile) gpu. ARM11 is in its last hurrah and tegra has only shipped on one device. doesn’t really bode well for its future.

    Zune HD actually seems like the perfect device for tegra since media playback is forefront and the the browser is a secondary function. I suspect that is the sort of device nvidia engineers were targeting when developing tegra regardless of what nvidia marketing says. Any Chrome OS based device would reverse (or at least balance) the equation of browsing and media usage and make the browser a key ability. ARM11 won’t cut it for a device like that.

    If nvidia is planning a cortex a8/9 transition then I agree, tegra would make a nice chrome OS chip. Until that happens though javascript performance will be very poor and make all these fancy “cloud” applications painful to use.

  3. I cannot see myself depending entirely on the cloud. What happens if I lose Internet access, or the servers go down, or worse?

    The only cloud I will bother with is the one that links my portables to my home desktop, since it is MY server that I have full control over.

    Now, if the local apps happen to be HTML-based and run through the device’s Web browser, I won’t mind so much. However, I fully expect that a device be usable without any connection to the Internet whatsoever.

    (Sooner or later, this dependence on the Internet spurred by smartphones and the like is going to bite us where it really hurts if we depend TOO much on it…)

  4. mobilebroadband and cloud dont mix Wednesday, December 16, 2009

    cloud computing would be perfect for a low powered pc with a fast internet connection, but netbooks don’t have a fast internet connection. Tethering a netbook to a wall would be pointless so netbooks usually only have mobile broadband, a connection of about 150k if your lucky

    I would’nt like to see amy mobile broadband bill if my OS was on “The Cloud”

    Has anyone thought of how mobile broadband speeds will affect how fast a cloud based OS will run. It’ll put an end to my intel is faster than your amd crap, but replace it with “My OS runs faster than yours cause I’m on Vodafone and your only on T-Mobile’.

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