RealTime IT News

Phones, PDAs Take On a New Dimension

A handful of chipmaking heavyweights say they want to take smartphones and PDAs to a new dimension. Make that three dimensions.

Investing in 3-D capabilities for mobile devices seems like a no-brainer, Framingham, Mass.-based analyst firm IDC data says wireless gaming is on the rise and should generate $1 billion in wireless gaming revenue by 2006 for wireless carriers in the United States.

However, while the technology is available, analysts say manufacturers may have some challenges ahead in selling the all-in-one devices.

Looking to get its fair share of the wireless gaming application market, Samsung Electronics Thursday struck a licensing deal with chip design firm ARM to use PowerVR MBX 3-D technology as a graphics accelerator for its next generation of smart phones and PDAs.

The company said the advantage of using MBX cores is that it uses a screen-tiling technology to cut down on the memory bandwidth and save power for embedded system on a chip (SoC) devices.

Likewise, AMD and Fujitsu Monday released new Flash memory upgrade modules for the ARM926EJ-S core. Under their FASL partnership and Spansion brand, the 640-megabit technology is designed to help developers put 3-D graphics, Java applications and better MPEG technology on next-generation mobile phones and PDAs. The companies said the modules are part of U.K.-based ARM's RealView Versatile Platform Baseboard.

"We decided to include this component as an option for customers who are prototyping wireless designs for the mobile phone and PDA markets, in order to maximize the system-level value to designers of ARM core-based products," ARM Director of Marketing Alistair Greenhill said in a statement.

The ARM926EJ core allows for enhanced virtual memory support to run popular, complex Open operating systems, such as Symbian OS, Windows CE, Linux, Palm OS and QNX.

Adding to the mix, Markham, Ontario-based ATI Technologies this month introduced its new IMAGEON 2300 co-processors for 3-D gaming. The chip is currently sampling with the biggest batch of shipments expected in the next two months.

However, carriers may have a harder sell in the U.S., where the phone-buying public is a little less likely to choose a smartphone. According to an August report from Jupiter Research, U.S. consumers prioritize small-size and voice-related functionality over more advanced features such as integrated digital cameras, games, PDAs or music players.

"Basic cell phones with voice and text messaging capability will continue to make up the majority of sales, followed by cell phones that can run small Java or BREW applications without overly increasing cell phone size or price," Jupiter Research Analyst Avi Greengart said in his report. "But cell phones with cameras, MP3 players and/or PDAs will not be widely adopted in the U.S. over the next 12 months."

Because interest in converged devices is low, Jupiter Research is telling carriers and handset vendors to create single purpose cell phones, PDAs and MP3 players, and allow them to function as a single unit using Bluetooth wireless technology.

Compound that with forecasts that the U.S. installed base of handheld PDAs will number just over 14 million at the end of 2003 and will only grow to 20 million by 2008 -- a 7 percent penetration of the overall U.S. population -- and the investment suddenly takes on a new meaning.

Jupiter Research Vice President and Research Director Michael Gartenberg says the sweet spot for handhelds will be those that offer voice, personal information management (PIM) or a combination of the two, and focus less on other integrated functions.

"As phones with integrated and functional PDA capability come into the market, they can spur growth opportunities for vendors while eschewing other less desirable features such as game play or media integration." Gartenberg said in a January report.

(Jupiter Research and this publication are owned by the same parent company.)