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Nvidia's Mobile Play: How Did I Miss This?

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Nvidia has plans for a mobile chipset that will change the look and functionality of smartphones when it hits in mid-to-late 2009. While many of the big chip vendors are placing bets on the concept of a mobile Internet device that’s larger than a smartphone, but smaller than a laptop, Nvidia’s APX 2500 chips could enable devices that are so sexy, they might render the need for an MID obsolete.

However, I’m told the company will announce an expansion of the APX chips into MIDs soon, so I could be wrong on that last point. Nvidia launched the chips that will make a smartphone function like a PC (or an iPhone) at the Mobile World Congress in February, and I can’t believe I missed it.

This is Nvidia’s first move into making the “brains” of a mobile device, and it’s using its graphics expertise to turn the devices containing the chips into portable media players that can play 10 hours of HD video (on an external screen) and 100 hours of MP3s on a single charge. All while the 750 MHz processor consumes less than a watt of power.

In a demo at Nvidia headquarters two weeks ago, I saw a device slightly larger than an iPhone power an HD rendering of a Pixar short called “For the Birds” on a big-screen TV. It was connected via an HDMI cable and it looked good at 720p. I get that some people don’t mind watching movies or TV on their cell phone or iPod screens, but if I’m able to download that content and plug it into a TV, that’s an entirely new ballgame for travel and sharing. I want that device.

The demo I saw was powered by Nvidia’s chipset running on Windows Mobile, creating a chip/OS combo that mimics some of the visual pizazz of the iPhone, but on a more business-friendly operating system. Sure, as far as mobile operating systems go, Windows Mobile isn’t exactly tearing it up, but the integration of business and pleasure could make the current angst of choosing between a BlackBerry or an iPhone a thing of the past.

The chipset will first appear at the end of this year in personal navigation devices and personal media players, with a smartphone due out in the middle of 2009. Unfortunately, the APX 2500 contains an HSDPA RF chip, so it won’t be deployed on my network, but TMobile subscribers should keep their eyes open. Like the iPhone, the APX is modem agnostic, which means it’s not tied to any particular cellular network. There’s plenty of room for Nvidia to stumble, since it doesn’t have the experience designing for the mobile space, but I’m hoping it can succeed right about the time my current mobile contract is up.

13 Responses to “Nvidia's Mobile Play: How Did I Miss This?”

  1. This could be a great growth area for Nvidia. High quaility video at low power is going to be a big deal and the phone manufacturers and mobile chip makers don’t have the expertise. Clearly Nvidia and Intel are expected to win. I wonder if ATI will make products for the mobile world.

  2. Stacey Higginbotham

    @Curtis, I think we agree. I think the iPhone is actually the start of the next generation of smartphone, which will have great voice and easy-to-navigate access to the Web. Nvidia’s chipset will allow others to deliver similar qualities,plus more entertainment. That’s why I think MIDs will be obsolete. Who wants a larger form factor (Intel’s smallest is 7-inches) when you have a better smartphone?

  3. Stacey,

    I not only disagree with your assertion of making MIDs obsolete, I’d say the iPhone is the first true “MID” although it clearly doesn’t have the Linux operating system as defined by Intel for a MID.

    My point here has several arguments:

    1. Wireless industry data continually supports most consumers don’t want most of the functionality offered on most cell phones these days. These consumers simply want great voice quality.

    2. The iPhone is a “game changer” that seamlessly delivers the internet while mobile. This reference to the iPhone has appeared in printed media, the blogosphere, tv news, and whatever else I cannot think of at this time. Point is, the iPhone being a “game changer” tying it to ease of use for web access while mobile is the common theme amongst the media.

    3. The iPhone greatest strengths are its’ services tied to the web, which will only get stronger due to Apple making the iPhone SDK available to developers.

    Hence, I again argue that the iPhone is the first MID, it just happens to have phone capabilities, which the media never discusses as being the “game changer” of the iPhone.

    Full disclosure: I’m a converted critic of the iPhone. I’ve felt that Nokia has had numerous smartphones that were/are vastly superior to the iPhone. Nokia still does. However, after receiving an ipod Touch as a christmas gift and becoming consumed by its’ ease of use, I bought an iPhone several weeks ago. Not because it is a superior phone, but because it has the superior mobile internet experience. In my mind, it is a phone MID, and as argued, the world’s first true MID.