It’s the last two decades all over again
The past two decades of PC history have been about desktops, servers, and laptops, but the "personal computer" of the coming decade is a small, pocket- or purse-sized device with a brightly lit screen, wireless networking and I/O, a sizable chunk of storage, and plenty of CPU and GPU horsepower on board. In short, you might say that the iPhone is the Macintosh 128K of the post-PC era, the 2008 lineup of Intel-based mobile products are the IBM PC XT, and we're all about to relive the 80s and 90s (complete with a brand new RISC versus CISC faceoff) but on a much smaller scale and in a more compressed timeframe.
Over the past few weeks, I've told you a bit about Intel's plans for this coming wave of pocket-sized personal computers: Silverthorne/Poulsbo will bring high-powered x86 hardware down into the ultramobile PC (UMPC) form factor in 2008, followed by the even smaller 32nm Moorestown chip that will be Intel's first full-fledged x86 media SoC and which could possibly be the future brains of Apple's iPhone. But I haven't yet told you about Intel's competition.
NVIDIA, AMD/ATI, ARM, and other powerhouses in the PC and embedded spaces aren't sitting idly by while Intel takes direct aim at what will be one of the hottest new battlegrounds of the post-PC era: your pocket. In the coming days, I'll tell you what each of these companies is up to, starting with NVIDIA.
"It is ultimately a computer that ends up in your pocket"
I recently had a series of exchanges with NVIDIA, including a free-ranging chat with Mike Rayfield, the general manager of NVIDIA's mobile group, about NVIDIA's plans for handheld devices. Like the rest of the technology industry, NVIDIA has been closely watching the smartphone space in general and the iPhone launch in particular, and the company has learned a few things both from Apple and from their own experience with the GoForce line of media SoCs.
The first lesson of the emerging mobile market is this: desktop PCs are about applications and performance, but handheld devices are about functionality and features. And on the list of important handheld features, the ability to make a voice call has gone from the top to somewhere near the bottom in the post-iPhone era.
"Historically, the handset market has been all about making a phone call," said Rayfield. "When you see advertisements for every phone but the iPhone, it's all about showing the form factor of the phone, and what color it is, or what size it is. It's basically an industrial design advertisement, or an advertisement by the network saying that your calls won't get dropped."
"The iPhone was the first one where, when you see the ad, you're actually looking at the phone doing something. The last thing they show you on the advertisement is making a phone call. So we believe that's reflecting what's happening in the industry, that these handheld devices are ultimately becoming your most personal computer. It is ultimately a computer that ends up in your pocket."