Nvidia's Tegra May Finally Power a Smartphone, Thanks to LG

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LG Electronics will reportedly use an Nvidia dual-core mobile Tegra applications processor in a number of smartphones this year, marking the first real step for Nvidia in the handset market, according to the Wall Street Journal. The chip company has previously shown impressive demos of the Tegra 2 processor, but few handset makers have officially announced the use of Nvidia chips, instead opting for those by Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and Samsung.

A product partnership between LG and Nvidia comes at an excellent time for both companies. Aside from Microsoft products such as the Zune HD and ill-fated Kin, Nvidia hasn’t yet cracked into the growing consumer electronics market with its ARM-based Tegra line of processors. Indeed, our 2008 interview with Nvidia CEO, Jen-Hsun Huang, illustrated the company’s desire to enter this market, but two years later, little progress has been made. HuangLG’s case is quite the opposite but yielding similar results. The Korean electronics company has watched its perennially profitable mobile division turn to losses this year in the face of competition from Samsung, Apple and others who were quicker to embrace higher-end smartphones and newer operating systems.

Although LG hasn’t specified what operating system it will pair with an Nvidia chip, Microsoft’s Windows Phone 7 is the likeliest initial candidate for a few reasons. The handset maker has leaned on Windows Mobile in the past, at one point planning for 50 handsets using Microsoft’s platform. The graphical prowess of the Nvidia Tegra line is excellent, as I saw firsthand at the Consumer Electronics Show this past January. Even as Qualcomm is prepping their own dual-core processor for handsets, Nvidia’s chip is well suited to power the Xbox Live gaming that Microsoft will offer on Windows Phone 7. Hopefully, we’ll hear more about the hotly contested chip space and future platforms next month at our Mobilize event.

At this point, however, I suspect the operating system used in a phone with its chip really doesn’t matter to Nvidia. Far more important is that after more than two years of showing off capabilities of the Tegra and Tegra 2 processors, a major player in the global handset economy may be willing to break from the silicon status-quo for smartphones and use Nvidia. A Tegra-powered phone that sees success would open the door for more Nvidia product wins in the growing consumer electronics space.

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