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Monthly Archives: February 2008

The introduction of the Nvidia APX 2500 at 3GSM is a watershed moment in mobile computing.  It marks the emergence of a new class of mobile processors that enable phones to finally complete the transition from audio-centric devices to ones that will also deliver first-rate visual computing experiences.  Forget the iPhone’s 480×320 display – it merely hints at what’s really to come in the right hardware scenarios.  Imagine a standard phone resolution of 800×480 displaying advanced 3D graphics and UI and full frame-rate video while still just sipping on the battery.  Imagine phones driving high-resolution displays.  All of this won’t happen overnight, but silicon such as Nvidia’s will be instrumental in such an evolution since such capability is only possible at the efficiencies necessary with dedicated silicon.

I see this as a transition not unlike what the PC went through in the 90’s.  The standard hardware for PC’s was initially a dumb frame-buffer – the CPU did all the work rendering the graphics.  Then 2D hardware acceleration became standard for things like fonts and movement of windows or rendering video.  Finally, the 3D graphics revolution made advanced 3D hardware acceleration standard on every PC today.

It’s not simply what the APX can perform that’s the key – it’s that it can do so within a power consumption budget suitable for a phone.

The constraint of having to run on a very limited battery budget is a beautiful thing.  PC technology is still deeply rooted in being able to simply draw more power from the wall if necessary to increase computational power.  So PCs have remained for the most part big, hot, loud, power-sucking beasts.  And why most laptops aren’t far from a wall socket.  But since phones must go at least all day, computation power efficiency rules the day.  And why silicon such as the APX exists.

Welcome to the revolution of graphics on mobile devices. 

 

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Poor Motorola.  Reports say that they’re considering selling off their handset unit.  I’m no financial analyst, but the optimist in me says that a company that was once world-class can be world-class again with some hard work, vision and leadership.

So when did things go wrong?  Basically, when Moto failed to evolve after their big hit.  The RAZR was a breakthrough design, and there it sat.  And sat.  The SLVR was a re-packaging job for people who preferred a candy-bar form factor to a hinged design.  The SLVR is the phone that I still own.  For the record, I’m still not sold on getting any type of smart phone.  I came very close to getting a Nokia N82 as an upgrade (without a data plan) but ultimately decided that $500+ was too much for a device that tends to occasionally tumble around on the concrete.

So Motorola…where was the high-res camera when you needed it?  Or an upgraded display?  How about a graphics user interface that looks like it’s from this century?  Why cumbersome dongles instead of a 3.5mm headphone jack for music playback?  How about a non-smart phone with a querty keyboard for heavy texters?  And it seemed to take forever to get different color versions to get done.  Oh, and good luck getting an unlocked Motorola besides places like TigerDirect.  If the carriers are constraining the design, why not establish a retail channel for unlocked phones?  People like choice. 

It’s all salvageable.  The RAZR2 V8/V9 points the way.  I still have my Startac in a drawer somewhere – I can’t part with a truly timeless design.  I for one am rooting for them and hope they keep the spark of innovation alive.

The Asus EeePC got a very positive review in my house.  It is small, light, well-built, and started up fast.  Yes, the display is a bit cramped, as is the keyboard.  And yes, it runs yet another weird variant of Linux.  But it has a real browser, connects effortlessly to the internet, and comes with a pretty broad suite of applications.  It is available in a variety of colors.  Battery life is OK – no worse than a typical laptop.  The girls at the high school where my wife teaches think it’s really cute – a good thing if you’re Asus.

What doesn’t the Eee have?  For starters, it doesn’t have a high price.  The entry-level model is a mere $299.  It also doesn’t have a hard drive, high-speed CPU, boatloads of memory, or the latest graphics processor.  It doesn’t show you a sequence of coming attractions of corporate logos when you turn it on.  But what it does, it does well – certainly, well enough to make you think – “Hey, for this price, why not?!”  It wasn’t designed as a replacement for a desktop or traditional laptop machine.  It was designed to fill some of the gaps where a big bulky expensive laptop was inappropriate or unfeasible – for example, a kid’s computer, or an on-the-go companion device.

The Eee adheres to some of the core tenets of the ultra-mobile PC – a low-cost, highly mobile, full-fidelity companion computer.  In fact, the Eee PC hits one of the key UMPC targets dead on; there’s one place where all of the other UMPC products missed – price.  People expect mobile devices to be affordable!  Asus’s R2H UMPC launched at a price point two to three times higher than the Eee, but the basic technology backbone was similar, with a 7” display, low-end Intel CPU/chipset, standard PC I/O and hardware compatibility.  Sure, the R2H also has a hard drive, GPS, Bluetooth, a fingerprint reader and runs real Windows but the additional features don’t justify significantly higher cost.  A $1000 companion device will have few takers regardless of functionality.

Good product design is ultimately as much about what to leave out as what to include.  And with the Eee PC, Asus got a number of things right that they got wrong with their R2H.  It’s small enough to toss in a backpack or bag, light enough to carry all day, inexpensive enough to afford as a secondary computer.