Tag: smartphone

MIT 'Hornet' system simulates 1,000 core chip

With chip manufacturers looking to slap more cores on top of each other, researchers at MIT have developed a system that is even better at finding problems before a 1,000 core behemoth is built.

Even smartphones are getting the multicore treatment these days, but chip firms are reluctant to develop designs without a good inclination that it will work with 24 or 48 cores.

Researchers at MIT have now developed a software system which will give chip developers a much clearer idea of any potential problems that might crop up once they start building them.

The software simulator, named Hornet, is able to model chip performance much more accurately than other systems, with a greatly enhanced ability to find critical flaws in designs.

Traditionally, software simulations have struggled to deal with the sheer size of data that will be found in a chip with hundreds of cores, and would have to forsake accuracy in order to stay efficient.

When chip designers need greater accuracy, hardware simulation systems comprising of programmable chips that mimic multicore behaviour would be used.  However, hardware simulations are not as easy to configure for testing out alternative design proposals.

Hornet might not be as fast as other simulations, but it is able to provide a level of accuracy of the number of cycles a chip takes to complete a task.   According to the researchers, it has the ability to do so with great accuracy for up to 1,000 cores.

This allows Hornet to detect any inherent problems in a design, proving more adept than competing simulators at indentifying risks that others would miss, the researchers claim.

At long last, Intel details mobile phone roadmap

Intel has, at last, fleshed out its mobile platform plans during its press conference at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. The company will introduce phone designs aimed at the $150 unsubsidised market and new CPUs for the Medfield platform.

The silicon giant will lay the ground for other upper- and lower- price points by introducing two new CPUs to power its SoC, the Z2000 and the Z2580, Atom CPUs.

The lowest end SoC will be based around an Intel Atom Z2000 CPU, clocked at 1GHz and with Intel XMM 6265 HSPA+ mobile communications and dual-sim feature.

The higher-end SoC will be based on the Intel Atom Z2580 CPU running at an undisclosed clock speed and will use Intel XMM 7160 communications, which adds LTE to the mix. Intel promises the Z2580 will deliver twice the performance of the reference Medfield design that uses a Z2460 processor – currently specced at up to 2GHz.

While the current flavour of Intel’s smartphone CPU is a single core with hyper-threading enabled, one core, two threads, and considering it isn’t very easy to double the clock rate on something like this, the promise of twice the performance means that Z2580 is, in all likelihood, a dual-core variant of the Z2460 – in other words, two cores but four threads.

Intel has also detailed that as soon as it has shrunk Medfield to the 22nm process node, it will rack up the power- and cost savings that it can pass on to the partners. 22nm SoCs for Intel’s products will be available next year for carrier certification.

Both SoCs will be available later this year, although consumer products should only reach the market in early 2013. While Intel has already signed up several handset “makers”, the first carrier to actually brand its own Intel phone will be Orange, with its Santa Clara handset.

Motorola Mobility, Lenovo and Lava International are other non-carrier partners who’ve signed up for Intel Mobile Communications’ reference design.

Tablets and smartphones: Why PC vendors should panic

The PC industry has very little going for it right now, with slow PC sales, rising component prices, government and businesses slashing IT spending leaving the end user to pick up the slack – right in the middle of a recession.

Bluntly put, 2011 has not been kind to the PC industry, and the outlook remains doom-and-gloom for 2012, which has prompted widespread cuts, slimming down of inventory, product cancellations, postponement, shoring up expenditure and a general caution for the first half of this year.

The UK, in particular, has felt the decline of the desktop PC, reflected by a sharp decrease in PC shipments in the last quarter of 2011. Notebooks and desktops slipped 19.6 percent year on year, according to Gartner’s latest data. In fact, most analysts are predicting that 2012 will be slightly worse in western countries than in emerging markets, PC-wise, so vendors are lumbering like the proverbial dinossaurs in the tar pits.

Continuing the trend, the consumer – not the enterprise – is driving technology consumption. In fact, the  consumer is driving it to such a point that we have given up on bulky desktop PCs and are willingly going for the much-prized smaller, handier and infinitely more portable tablet PC or smartphone without thinking twice.

“Despite aggressive pricing and special holiday deals for PCs, consumers’ attention was caught by other devices, such as smartphones, media tablets and e-readers,” said Meike Escherich, principal analyst at Gartner.

 

2012 – Year of the Tablet

While traditional PC integrators are struggling to make ends meet and support their enterprise customers and strategies, the tablet business has projected into the foreground a number of foundries, semiconductor- and fabless design businesses. Only a few notable exceptions in the PC world have managed to adapt and pre-empt the changing market conditions. Of these, Apple and Nvidia stand out the most.

Apple, living off the quasi-religious devotion of its followers, has had wild success with its iPhones and iPads. It is expected to announce on 7 March the iPad 3, which has left so far a slightly underwhelming feeling as rumours suggest it won’t feature a new design of the iPad 2’s A5 SoC, but a tweaked version.

Fortunately for Apple, a lot of its customers don’t care about what goes on in the background.

Over 70 percent of Apple’s revenues now come from iOS devices such as the iPhone or iPad, and this does not even take into account iTunes revenues.

With desktop, server and notebook Macs now accounting for just 14 percent of the company’s total revenues, this adds more weight to the alleged Apple ARM notebook, forcibly hooking its fate to iOS.

It isn’t surprising that, of Apple’s record $46.33 billion revenues from last year, it made $13.06 billion in profit.

One of the most resounding names in the PC graphics industry – Nvidia – has also managed to navigate these dire straits by expanding its business concern into mobile graphics and then into system-on-chip designs based on ARM architecture.

Nvidia’s Tegra is now positioned shoulder-to-shoulder with the likes of Texas Instruments (OMAP), Samsung (Exynos), Qualcomm (Snapdragon) and Apple (A-series), and has raked in for the company, in 2011 alone, almost $600 million in revenue.

Nvidia will be announcing several Tegra 3-based products with its partners next week at MWC and expects the revenue growth in this segment to be a healthy 50 percent. Overall, the outlook is much more favourable today than a year ago when Tegra was still confronted with scepticism from handset makers.

So, what of Intel? Intel’s push into the portable business is coming to fruition with the forthcoming announcement of both smartphone and tablet PCs based on its Medfield design. Ironically, firmly rooted in the Intel and AMD rivalry, PC vendors will have Intel as their only option in moving into the tablet market without taking more risks.

Shipping through its traditional PC partners, the same ones who’ve struggled to shift into the tablet gear, this will be a once in a lifetime opportunity for the likes of Lenovo, HP, Toshiba, Dell and Acer to jump on the tablet bandwagon.

Even if you’re sceptical of Intel’s ability to pull off an x86 device like Medfield, don’t underestimate the depth of Intel’s pockets and the strength of co-marketing.

Two tablet PC vendors in particular have locked themselves in deadly combat, to the point where you can hardly distinguish the combatants: Barnes and Noble announced its Nook Tablet 8GB, which faces off squarely with Amazon’s Kindle Fire, same price, same specs, mostly the same of everything, at already affordable prices. Your choice of tablet will fall on your choice of book store.

 

The company formerly known as 3DLabs

One dark horse may surprise many onlookers sometime soon: ZiiLabs , formerly known as 3DLabs, a subsidiary of Creative Technologies, has penned a deal with the Chinese government to supply the HanZpad. Han, being Chinese for, erm, Chinese.

The HanZpad will be using an as-yet undisclosed homebrew Chinese OS and its own “stemcell” processor, the ZMS-40. The ZMS-40 is a quad-core ARM A9 design with an array of 96 “stemcell processors”, not unlike shaders on a GPU, that accelerate multimedia processing. It also benefits from having Creative X-Fi technology integrated into the hardware. On paper it puts the competition to shame.

If things come to fruition, the low-profile ZiiLabs has beaten age-old ARM licensees to the quad-core grail. This is really a testament to how fast and how easy it is to get in on a piece of the action.

 

Apps: Cheap and cheerful

In case you haven’t noticed, Microsoft and other companies have tried shoving widgets down our throats for a few years now, but it really hasn’t taken off. On tablets and smartphones, it’s a whole different story.

Probably one of the greatest assets handheld devices have is the cheap and cheerful software known as apps, and you’ll pardon us if we’re stating the obvious, but this can’t be emphasised enough: Apps are cheap and easy to use. They are the epitome of “dumbing down the user experience” and appeal to the lowest common denominator of computer users.

Apps also give you a tunnel vision of sorts, focusing your attention on one thing at a time, providing you with exactly what you want without distracting you with other odd bits and ends like desktop programs do. Apps are about the same price as a ringtone, but their use far exceeds that of a mentally unstable frog.

 

Mobility driving the industry

The tablet and smartphone business is also making an impact in the component industry. From TFT panel makers ramping up smaller screen production to R&D investment in new SoC designs, RF, baseband and storage technology, new players are surfacing and old ones are adapting to the best of their ability.

Tablets and smartphones are also a lifeline for many companies struggling to cope with overcapacity, stemming from over-optimistic desktop computer forecasts.

RAM manufacturing is shifting production to meet the demand of tablet PCs. Lower desktop memory margins have prompted this move and greater margins exist in ‘niche’ segments such as tablets and servers, where there’s a premium to be had.

Memory manufacturing companies are also investing in developing new technologies that will – one way or another – end up in the palm of your hand. Whether it’s ReRAM, MRAM or CMOx-based Flash, R&D money is going straight into these business units. Even Rambus has joined in on the action with its recent acquisition of Unity Semiconductor.

TFT panels, on the other hand, have become commoditised and shrunk panel makers’ revenues. The industry has been forced to walk a fine balance between innovating (OLED, AMOLED) and weaning consumers off ‘traditional’ TFT panels. It has managed it poorly. Samsung, Sony, Toshiba and LG are all suffering from having invested far too much and having commoditised the technology too quick.

But not all is bad news for TFT, if you’re willing to adapt. According to research firm NPD DisplaySearch, tablet PCs have accounted for a massive boost in TFT panel shipments. Apart from the smallish ‘Public Display’ segment used in interactive advertising, it is the single greatest boost to the industry which otherwise struggled with low margins and lower-still PC shipments in 2011.

DisplaySearch reports a 217 percent growth of TFT panels, year on year, for the 9+ inch segment, although 2012 will definitely put a spin on the metrics as 7- and 8-inch designs are growing in popularity with both Samsung and an alleged 8-inch Apple iPad.

Finally, ARM licensees have seen business booming as their system-on-chip designs are now powering just about everything handheld. Broadcom, Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, Samsung Electronics and even second tier Chinese contenders like Rockchip have found a home with the SoC.

 

So, why should PC vendors panic? 

Being the lumbering corporate giants that they are, PC vendors are like supertankers, slow to turn and very, very cautious about where they are navigating.

No chances are taken and the beancounters have the last word. While they have the budget to invest in developing new products they are wary to do so as it can cannibalise their own product lines, upset the supply chain and generally impact their bottom line.

PC vendors are also facing off with just about anyone willing to lay down their reputation in tablets and smartphones. A quick trip to Taiwan or mainland China will generate the necessary ODM engineering and manufacturing to come up with competitive products, so it is very easy to get in on the action.

Tablets alone are expected to reach around 100 million unit shipments in 2012, according to Digitimes Research and IDC, and this is purely the hardware side of things.

When you factor in smartphones or superphones, the revenues, even at far lower average selling points, and growth easily overtake anything the PC world has to offer. Now, add the entire parallel economy of revenues generated by app sales for both iOS and Android devices that keep developers’ tummies full and CEOs happy.

No wonder Microsoft wants to push WOA fast and hard. There is no other way to stay in the game.

Next week there will be plenty of developments as Mobile World Congress takes place in Barcelona, and if your business is selling desktop PCs, we’d recommend you put together a team and ship them off to Catalunya as fast as you can. Maybe you’ll learn a thing or two.

Nokia sacks 4,000 of its factory workers

In case you blinked again and missed it, Nokia is axing 4,000 more jobs, all in its manufacturing arm, as announced in last year’s restructuring plan.

The – exclusively – factory jobs in Nokia business units in Hungary (2,300), Finland (1,000) and Mexico (700) follow Stephen Elop’s masterplan of killing off the manufacturing arm and sourcing everything from Asian sweatshops factories, which offer more competitive conditions than its European and American counterparts.

According to analysts, shedding Nokia’s massive manufacturing arm is a good thing, reported Reuters, and was eagerly anticipated by investors.

These had been none too pleased with the 73 percent break in the company’s Q4 earnings, but the company line remains that sales of its new Lumia phones are good. Its partnership with Microsoft is ever so slowly gaining traction with over 1 million Lumias sold between mid-November and December 31st. Continued debate about the bugginess of Lumia devices aside, sales results don’t seem too bad for the doom-and-gloom forecast for the Finnish company.

Lumia 700 and 800 series smartphones are currently sourced from Compal Communications, we are told. However, previous rumours that Nokia will keep Lumia 900 devices manufactured in-house seem to lose relevance, as the Finnish phone designer must lop off its factories as fast as it can to regain investor trust.

The job cuts add up to 30,000 so far but should continue throughout 2012, as more and more manufacturing is moved to Asian contractors.

The Swingin’ Stephen Elop told us at Mobile World Congress last year that job cuts are merely a new life journey for all involved, and that ex employees should consider losing their livelihoods an opportunity.

Samsung posts record profits

Samsung Electronics is going through one of its best moments to date, after posting a mind-boggling $4.72 billion profit for the last quarter of 2011.

The results are being attributed to its successful smartphone foray where it has been able to compete toe-to-toe with Apple and its iPhones. It can’t hurt Samsung’s bottom-line that Apple, its main competitor in the smartphone market, is also its greatest client for SoCs and mobile displays for both iPhones and iPads.

Until the move to TSMC takes place, Samsung will be in a very privileged position indeed.

Like a little kid who just received a wad of money from his grandparents, Samsung has already announced it will expand its investment with a further $22 billion thrown at manufacturing and R&D. Three fifths of this will be pumped directly into chip manufacturing.

The company has made no statements about purchasing new technology from competitors such as RIM, or patent portfolios, but would welcome a chance to even the odds against Apple in its Mobile Patent Wars.

With the impending RAM and display sales slump, Samsung will be sitting on enough money to weather the forthcoming storm. Samsung is the only profitable DRAM manufacturer, reports Reuters, but this is likely to change due to oversupply and poor PC sales.

Analysts are expecting Samsung to ship 150 to 170 million smartphones this coming year, a substantial increase of the sub-100 million it shipped out in 2011, while moving into the low-middle end of feature phones – a traditional Nokia stronghold.

Companies court Kodak – it's ripe for the picking

The failing Eastman Kodak company isn’t failing as much as you’d expect. In fact, it’s having a Kodak moment.

It is sitting on a patent treasure trove of over 1,100 patents wildly valued, by at least one expert, at over $3 billion and has cunningly positioned itself for a quick, easy sale.

Just a week before filing for bankruptcy protection with the Southern District of New York, the company fired off another salvo of patent infringement suits against Apple (four patents) and HTC (five patents), adding an interesting twist to the on-going mobile patent wars. The more it becomes caught up in the crossfire, the more attractive it will become to potential buyers.

Eastman Kodak today is business as usual, only under the watchful eye of the Federal government, in an attempt to pull itself together and for the sake of its investors and employees, survive.

A recent reorganisation of the business boosted investor confidence while the company was still on the stock market, but was quickly superseded by the company’s Chapter 11 filing.

While it is true that, as Antonio Perez, CEO of Kodak put it, one of the reasons the company is in bad shape is that patent infringers have enacted stalling tactics in court, hoping for the collapse of Kodak before legal proceedings came to an end.

In fact, the company has relied on licensing as a regular source of income, especially as its products have failed to make a hit. In the end, it cannot collect and with Kodak’s situation there are talks that cases may simply stall in court. Kodak looks increasingly like a victim of big business… or is it?

The timing of both the restructuring, Chapter 11 filing and new lawsuits may have been cherry-picked to increase third-party interest in the company.

“The companies defending themselves against Kodak might ask the courts to stay all pending cases, but generally, bankruptcy does not prevent a company from enforcing its intellectual property rights”, Florian Mueller, IP expert, tells TechEye.

In all likelihood, court proceedings will continue even as the company struggles. Both the Kodak and the federal authorities will pursue sources of revenue, including damages awarded in court from successful litigation. Not only that, but a buyer will wipe its slate clean and pursue its adversaries in the mobile business.

In the course of today’s Mobile Patent Wars, everyone is a suitor, and everyone stands to make a killing out of Kodak’s demise. Buying the vast (1100+) patent portfolio, that matches the smartphone market so well, would be a Godsend to any of Microsoft, Samsung, LG, Apple or even Google, literally switching round the tables.

“Digital photography is part of the standard functionality of a modern-day smartphone, and increasingly common in tablet computers. Key patents on digital imaging could have some strategic value in the ongoing wireless patent wars”, added Mueller.

You can’t really imagine your smartphone without a camera, and most likely if you have one, then the odds are it exists under a Kodak licence of some sort.

The result is that the underdog here is being very coy about what happens next. Restructuring the company and a potential lawsuit bonanza against patent infringers will immediately attract buyers homing in for the opportunity to get one up on their adversaries or, maybe even for the first time, taking lead in a business that has been under the thumb of Apple and Google.

Someone will snap up Kodak soon, very soon.

Microsoft continues to bleed Android dry

Microsoft announced that is has got one up in the world of smartphones with another patent licensing deal, this time with LG Electronics.

Microsoft revealed that it had reached an agreement with LG to license its Android and Google Chrome OS devices.  Specifics of the deal were not revealed but given the nature of other licensing deals it’s likely that UnLucky Goldstar will be forced to cough up for royalties.

Microsoft gleefully announced that a massive 70 percent of all Android smartphones in the US are now subject to its licensing deals, claiming it is “proud of the continued success”. Of what? Android? Android’s one of the biggest money spinners the Vole has going for it, now.

No wonder it’s happy. After a disastrous attempt at a mobile play, eventually Microsoft began moving into the mobile market in a big way. Every time a manufacturer thinks about extra costs involved in the – supposedly free – Android OS, its own services begin to appear more attractive. 

Of course it is going to need all the help it can get to catch up to Android , but a string of licensing deals will not have done it any harm.

Samsung has been forced to hand over cash on its handsets, thought to be to the tune of around $15 per device – no small amount when you are flogging Galaxy S2s by the millions and millions.  Alongside Samsung, Microsoft has also claimed the scalps of HTC and Acer in Android or Chrome OS deals and is unlikely to stop until it has hunted down all Google OS users.

Microsoft is also attempting to put the screws on Barnes & Noble and Google’s newly acquired Motorola Mobility, though both are holding out for the moment.

TechEye spoke to patent expert Florian Mueller who said that it’s likely that Microsoft’s LG licensing deal is of the same ilk to those with other Android device makers.

He also said that the deal, which is a boost for Microsoft, leaves Motorola and B&N more vulnerable.

“It’s another milestone for Microsoft’s patent licensing business and those who refuse to take a license, particularly Motorola and Barnes & Noble, are increasingly isolated,” he said. “Those two companies are being sued by Microsoft while others have resolved at the negotiating table any IP issues surrounding Google’s platforms.”

Kamikaze Elop wages war on smartphone market

From “burning platforms” to establishing “beachheads” former Microsoft man Swingin’ Stephen Elop is not afraid of dramatising hisheroic task of turning Nokia’s fortunes around.

As the Lumia 900 launch attempts to force Nokia back into the US market following a tumultuous year since he jumped ship to the Finnish former rubber boot maker, Elop could be on more of a kamikaze mission considering the difficulty of the job at hand.  A “war of ecosystems” is ensuing, Elop says, and he hopes his assault will be more Dunkirk than le Somme.

Since embarking on a will-they-won’t-they courtship with Microsoft in early 2011, it has become increasingly clear the mammoth task both firms face in becoming relevant in a fast changing smartphone market.

The Lumia series of handsets, the first to feature the partnership between the troubled pair, have generally been well received, and the new US-only 4G handset is no different.  With a 4.3 inch AMOLED screen the hardware seems that it will hold its own against some of the big name phones out there.

But being armed with a paltry 40,000 apps available through Windows shows just how far away both are from squaring up to rivals, with Elop himself admitting in late 2011 that they are “years” behind competitors at this stage.  Apple, for example, has around 500,000 apps available, while Google claims Android Market has in the region of 400,000, a figure that is still growing extremely fast.

Another one of the more debilitating problems facing both firms is that they are deemed out of touch by consumers.  Microsoft has largely been left behind in the move to mobile computing, while Nokia was last seen as desirable around the same time the 3210 and Reebok Classics were de rigeur in classrooms over a decade ago.

At least BlackBerry has some appeal among Molotov cocktail wielding youth in the UK, even if business users have largely given up.

Convincing phone sellers to give Nokia/Windows phones a big push to customers when more enticing brands such as Apple and Samsung are available is going to be no mean feat.  Upon entering most phone shops the words “Android”, “Apple”, “4S” and “S2” are the ones tumbling out of eager sales staff when you say you are looking to get a new smartphone, with neither Nokia or Microsoft getting a look in.

Of course, a large marketing budget from the two money bags firms – it should not be forgotten that Nokia still does rather well with in emerging markets – should go some way to redressing this.

It seems that Microsoft has been fitting into the cut-throat smartphone patent fun and games, getting one up on Android by claiming royalties on handsets of some of its manufacturing partners.

Furthermore, the prospect of Windows 8 popping up on the horizon offers hope of establishing Microsoft’s presence as a powerhouse.  If Windows 8 can deliver the goods then there is a chance the two could become a force to be reckoned with.

With the imminent release of the Galaxy S3 and iPhone 5 it is possible that in terms of hardware Nokia could be left in the dust once again.

Microsoft’s own side of the partnership is also difficult. With its presence at CES seemingly only to talk up the browser version of Cut The Rope game and a tie-in with Sesame Street, there is still some way off the release of mobile computing attempt Windows 8 and not a lot to put the fear of Ballmer into its enemies.

By the time the Nokia/Windows war machine is fully up and running it could be too late.

iPhone 4S triples your data bill

Users of the iPhone 4s will be shocked to see their data bills rise for no apparent reason.

When the iPhone 4S came out we said that there was no discernible difference between it and the iPhone 4, besides a few more bits under the bonnet and Siri.

Ever keen to prove us wrong, it seems that Apple‘s newest phone chews up more than twice the data bill of the its predecessor thanks to its increasing dependence on online services like the virtual personal assistant Siri.

Telecom network technology firm Arieso told Associated Press that since Siri, which means arse in Japanese, came along consumers transfer on average three times more data than users of the older iPhone 3G model.

Data usage of the previous model, the iPhone 4, was only 1.6 times higher than the iPhone 3G, while iPad 2 tablets consumed 2.5 times more data than the iPhone 3G, the study showed.

According to Arieso the iPhone is mostly a data hog because of Siri, which is a personal assistant and search app which will tell you where to find a brothel but is too uptight to tell you where an abortion clinic is.

Of course, it’s possible that people are so in love with their iPhone 4S they have started downloading much more than they used to, but three times as much is a little unlikely.

Arieso’s chief technology officer, Michael Flanagan, said while he used the iPhone 4 he did not think it was sensible to buy an iPhone 4S.

“However, the data usage numbers I am seeing make me wonder what I am missing,” he said. Mostly a huge phone bill.

Nokia and Microsoft to spend a fortune on marketing

Rumours that Microsoft and Nokia are set to spend over $100 million on marketing Windows 8 tablets and smartphones are rubbish, according to veteran vole-watcher Paul Thurrott, who claims that they are going to spend a lot more.

Thurrott said that he has been given the real marketing figure and it is a lot more than “in the neighborhood of $100 million.”

Thurrott said it’s going to require shedloads of money to convince punters to buy millions of Windows Phone handsets in the first half of 2012. Not only will it need a new set of phones, it will also require increased contact with tech enthusiasts, increasing retail-worker recommendation rates through training and sales incentives, and other methods.

This will cost over $100 million in the US and it looks like Microsoft has tapped Nokia and its hardware chums Samsung.

According to the internal Microsoft documentation Thurrott claims to have seen, the total cost of this marketing tsunami is $200 million and that is just in the US. On AT&T at least, Nokia is outspending Microsoft two to one.

The plan includes sales incentives for retail workers which will get them recommending Windows Phone as an alternative to Android devices and the iPhone line. Average workers will make $10 to $15 per handset, depending on the number sold.

Microsoft is expected to make a big announcement at CES this coming week when we will all know for certain. It will be its last.