Texas Instruments admitted during an earnings conference call today that Nvidia beat it to market with the first dual-core processor for tablets. This is surprising statement from a company that has been in the business of building power-efficient chips based on the ARM design for close to two decades.
ARM is the basic chip design being used by Apple, Nvidia, Samsung, Qualcomm, and Texas Instruments for tablets. TI licensed its first ARM design back in 1993 (PDF). Nvidia, by contrast, is an upstart in the ARM chip market, announcing its first ARM processor only in 2008.
Nvidia's dual-core Tegra 2 processor is most notably in Motorla's Xoom tablet, arguably the highest profile tablet since Apple's iPad was announced last year. The Xoom is expected to go on sale as early as next month. Texas Instruments' answer to the Tegra 2 is OMAP 4, TI's first dual-core ARM processor for tablets.
Here's the question that Uche Orji, an analyst at UBS Investment Bank, posed to TI executives Monday. "We've seen Nvidia Tegra 2 get very aggressive. We've heard comments about share gains within the tablet market. And that's been probably the one dual-core product from ARM that's shipping now in tablets that we know. So I just want to see now what makes you comfortable about OMAP 4 prospects in the light of all the competition we're seeing," he said.
In response, Ron Slaymaker, vice president, TI investor relations, acknowledged that Nvidia has emerged as the early leader. "Nvidia, to their credit, was the first out with a dual-core applications processor. I believe they had a couple of months, maybe a quarter lead on our OMAP 4 product," Slaymaker said.
He continued. "OMAP 4 began sampling fourth quarter a year ago. So we've had that product in customers' hands for over a year at this point. We're well along in development program. And again, them being first for customers that are trying to get out with tablet programs right away, especially some that are based upon the Android operating system, they're the player, they were the first player out so there is a natural alignment there."
But all is not lost. TI is supplying the dual-core (OMAP 4) processor for RIM's upcoming PlayBook tablet. To be exact, that is an OMAP 4430 1GHz processor (see graphic above) with two ARM Cortex-A9 cores.
And Slaymaker referenced other tablet designs that will use OMAP 4. "We are in volume production now with OMAP 4. And we're not just in production to put those products in inventories. In fact, we're shipping to a customer that plans to ramp their tablet production based on OMAP 4. So again, we've acknowledged for a long time the tablet market, as is the smartphone market, will be a competitive market. But I think you're going to find that translates to great opportunity for TI across a variety of product areas," he said.