Friday, January 14, 2011

The Future of Speed on a Tablet

Coming hot off of CES, it seems that Apple found a way to at least partially circumvent the glowing buzz over devices like the Xoom and Playbook by announcing the Verizon iPhone on Tuesday. Personally, though, I’m still very interested in the stuff we heard last weekend and the impact it is already having on the upcoming tech season.

Specifically, what kind of power will we see under the hood of this next generation of tablet devices? In 2010, the range was relatively diverse. There were ARM 8 processors, a handful of Snapdragons and some proprietary devices that didn’t measure up to the high speed, nearly instant response rate that most users demand of mobile devices.

Now, with many new tablets migrating to WiMax and LTE 4G networks, they obviously need to ramp up the power a little bit and show off what chip manufacturers have been developing in the last three or four years.

Specifically, the first wave of dual core mobile processors are finally hitting the market, and Nvidia’s Tegra 2 is the biggest name among them. For those not familiar with the newest tablet processors, Tegra 2 uses the ARM CortexA9 CPU (dual core), GeForce GPU for high quality 3D visuals and offers full support for 1080p video playback. In short, it’s a full blown mobile computing system in a single chipset.

For reference, it doubles the power present on the iPad while providing the option for four times as much memory. With 4G connections demanding instant access to video chatting services, downloading, and multitasking, it’s almost a necessity. Beyond the raw horsepower, it will offer a breadth of multimedia benefits that Nvidia has become well known for.

For a long time, tablet processors were forced to be either converted smart phone processors, or converted laptop processors. In both cases, the results were less than stellar. Power wasn’t available in the smaller phone chips and laptop chips were often bigger and hotter. Now, with the tablet market taking off, we can look forward to the first real year of tablet-oriented processors.

This is the tech industry, however, and that means the Tegra 2 will likely only be the top offering for a limited time. While it will be present in a number of devices including the Xoom, G-Slate, Streak 7, Acer Iconia, and Asus’s full range of Eee tablets, new offerings are already on the horizon from Qualcomm in the form of a new Snapdragon MSM (8960) and soon AMD and Intel will likely be entering the tablet space with their own mobile processing units.

That’s not to mention Microsoft’s recent “System on a Chip” announcements during CES this year when they discussed new ARM devices being compatible with Windows 8 with full system interfaces in a single chip.

One major mistake the big chip makers made with mobile chips was assuming they were for smart phones only. Not only did the smart phone market expand rapidly to start rivalling home computing – the tablet market is well on its way to doing the same and with mobility increasing daily, soon too will the standard computing industry. Combined, that means a sharper focus on these small, all-in-one chips in the next 10 years. It may not be as exciting as holding the next new tablet in your hands,  but in the years to come it will represent a huge shift in mobile technology innovation.

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