Watch out, Nvidia is stalking the iPhone. The maker of fast graphics processors will apply its chip know-how to juice up the mobile internet device market and the Windows Mobile interface.
As reported back in February, after a decade of pumping up PC performance, Nvidia is betting a big part of its future on boosting graphics performance in fit-in-your-pocket mobile internet devices (MIDs).
iPhone-style devices with Nvdia's APX 2500 system-on-a-chip--due late this year and next year--incorporate most of the functionality of a PC. (See block diagram.) And it is important to note that Nvidia is building all of the core electronics that will run a mobile internet device, not just the graphics component.
The APX 2500 is different from Intel's Atom processor platform--which is offered as a processor and a separate chipset--because the 2500 integrates everything onto one piece of silicon. This makes it more akin to Intel's upcoming Moorestown processor that's due next year or early 2010.
Nvidia's goal is to pack as much processing punch as possible into a few-hundred-milliwatt power envelope, said Michael Rayfield, general manager of the Mobile Business Unit. "I said start from zero. And then made my team beg and plead for every milliwatt," he said. Notebook PC processors typically operate in power envelopes between 10 and 35 watts.
But to the user, the biggest difference will be Microsoft's Mobile Windows interface and what can happen when there is Nvidia GeForce graphics silicon pushing everything around.
The platform that Nvidia is demonstrating goes far beyond the staid, pin-striped Windows Mobile that is used today. Nvidia is showing finger-flick-and-roll screens and accelerometer-based reorienting 720p video.
These tiny devices are designed to run 720p HDTV video for 10 hours--one of the marquee features that Nvidia will be emphasizing, Rayfield said. He plugged a prototype APX 2500-based device into a large screen TV via a High-Definition Multimedia Interface (HDMI) connector and played high-definition movies with the same fluidity and resolution as you get from a big HDTV box or bigger computer.
All on, believe it or not, Windows Mobile. The operating system has struggled since its inception back in 2000. Initially, it had promise on Compaq (and later Hewlett-Packard) iPaq handhelds, but these devices never appealed to a large base, even in corporate America which eventually went en masse for the Blackberry. There is more acceptance now as Windows Mobile 6.1 is adopted by companies like HTC, Samsung, and Acer (which announced its intention to bring out a Windows smartphone)--but it is still Windows. In a post-iPhone world, Nvidia says this is not adequate.
The prototype mobile internet device that Nvidia is currently working on is not the product that will appear from phone companies or navigation device vendors. Rayfield said it is necessarily a thick device and contains extra circuit boards because it is a development platform. The final product made by device manufacturers will be thin, he said.