Blog Post

TI Joins the Portable Internet Device Race

No one knows exactly how big the market for mobile Internet devices will be, but the major chip makers are betting it will be huge (it’s one of the reasons they’re making chips for mobile devices at 45 nanometers.) We’ve covered efforts by Intel, Qualcomm, and Via Technologies to get their chips into devices sized somewhere between a smartphone and a PC, but Texas Instruments wants to play, too.

TI formalized its MID effort, based on its own OMAP architecture, last month. It’s entering this market with its third generation of OMAP multimedia processors, which were designed four years ago specifically to fit into smartphones. The second-generation chips are currently in the Nokia 800 and 770; the third-generation chips that underlie the formal MID group will be in an undisclosed number of products by the end of the year.

TI’s chips will compete directly with Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chipset and Intel’s Atom chips. Comparatively speaking, TI’s chips show a greater flexibility for the end products. The power-sipping (at 500 mW-750 mW) 800 GHz MHz processor is slower than both Qualcomm’s and Intel’s efforts and requires less power than Intel’s Atom processors, which can require up to 2.4 watts. Ramesh Iyer, a MID product strategy manager with TI, says the lower clock speed is a conscious decision to reduce the power consumption; combining several types of cores with TI software allows for a higher utilization of existing megahertz, he notes.

As products containing chips from competing vendors hit the market, my hunch is that TI’s might be the best when it comes to general purpose use and battery power, followed by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, which will also be battery-friendly and perhaps perform better than TI’s in general purpose use. Device specs for MIDs based on Intel’s Atom processor are larger, but the x86 architecture might win converts because it’s familiar and plenty of applications are designed for it. And that raises the very legit question of what role the operating system will play in how MIDs are used. I’ll get back to that in a few posts.

14 Responses to “TI Joins the Portable Internet Device Race”

  1. MID’s….hmmm, well, considering the hype the large iPhone has had, and that the N810 isn’t much bigger (with a 800×480 screen), I think some MID’s could be successful, but not at anything close to cell phone levels. A normal (which means small) cell phone just doesn’t have a big enough display. The only gadget I’m really interested in is the WiMax N810 (WiMax, GPS, slide out keyboard).

    As far as x86 vs ARM goes, I don’t think x86 has much advantage — very few people work at the assembly language level, and ARM has good C compilers. The success of open source (which is typicall cross platform) really helps ARM.

    I don’t want to carry around a mini-PC – it doesn’t translate to the mobile internet experience. Note that Apple agrees: the successful iPhone has a very different UI from OS-X, while MS’s ho-hum WinCE is more similar to desktop Windows.

    TI has far broader aims for the OMAP 3 series – the original OMAP 3 (34xx) were for high volume OEM’s only (TI had not dedicated the resources to support smaller developers). The OMAP 35xx series is for broad embedded use; their first attempt (OMAP 15xx) didn’t do well, but the 35xx looks more promising.

    Anyway, embedded has its minuses (smaller volumes for each customer, high support costs) and pluses (many more customers (so less dependent on a few major customers), long life spans). I would never select an Intel, AMD, Nvidia, or Qualcomm chip for an embedded application – Qualcomm & Nvidia have no track record, and Intel and AMD have a record of abandoning their embedded efforts (and screwing the customers).

    The high end OMAP (e.g. 3530) have 3-D graphics and video acceleration (e.g. decode HD-720 at 30fps), so I’m not sure how much better the Intel Atom, Qualcom Snapdragon, or Nvidia will be.

  2. Stacey Higginbotham

    @Wes, A post on the APX chipset is up now. They’ll launch something for the MID market in that line very soon. I’m still not sold on the MID idea though.

  3. Yes, nice post.

    But I need a third class of computing device like I need another hole in my head. Even if it were free (FREE!) I wouldn’t want to carry it, keep track of whether it is charged (and where the power cord is), how it is configured and which apps it has on it….

    Yeah, the cardinal sin of marketing is assuming that the rest of the world is just like you, but a few hundred million other people have already demonstrated similar sentiments when offered internet appliances for the kitchen (3Com), for the TV (Microsoft – Apple’s TV box doesn’t count), for games or just for walking around (Nokia, Sony)

  4. 800 GHz is impressive for something that will only comsume 500mW to 750mW! And by impressive I mean life changing lol.

    You did mean 800 MHz right? I mean if that’s not a typo, I’m going to go buy some TI stock!