On being mobile
Posted by Jon Peddie on October 9th 2013 | Discuss
As (I hope) you probably know, we just wrapped up our 2013 Mobile Devices study on SoCs and the GPUs inside. (Clever title, no?)
If you are interested in mobile devices, and specifically the SoCs and GPUs that power them, then you should be interested in our new market study.
However, it was challenging because of one word: mobile.
Challenging because the word “mobile,” when taken in its fullest sense, covers quite a large number of devices. In the context of the report, the term Mobile Device refers to Smartphones, Tablets, Portable/Handheld Game machines, and Others, which could include smart watches, portable medial/auto/ scientific analyzers, portable GPS with graphics screens, and miscellaneous devices such as Chromebook and fitness monitors. Taken to its fullest definition, it could also include airplanes, autos, and space stations—all mobile, running on batteries.
So we made some (I think) interesting market segmentations and definitions to deal with the vastness of the term mobile.
To distinguish which type of mobile device we were talking about we had to add a modifier.
Our first approach was on device and size:
• Macro Mobile Devices: Tablets, Chromebooks—screen size over 6 inches
• Standard Mobile Devices:
Smartphones, handheld gaming devices, PDAs, digital cameras, MP3 players— screen size over 2 inches
• Micro Mobile Devices: Digital watch, health and fitness devices, mini MP3 players—screen size up to 2 inches
That’s OK, and we all get it, but that segmentation runs up against the segmentation used internally by companies in the mobile business, so we didn’t think it would map with various companies’ marketing efforts, which would make it less useful. Also, it didn’t include PCs.
We chose instead to look at usage and size, and arrived at the following.
Portable. A portable mobile device is something with a screen size bigger than 11 inches, as in a notebook/laptop. It is designed to be moved but is not expected to be moved in all scenarios. This could be a notebook computer or an AIO desktop computer that could run on batteries.
Personal. A personal mobile device is something with a screen less than 11 inches, such as a tablet, phone, personal navigation device (PND), camera, game machine, or smart watch, which theoretically could include the entertainment display in a car or the screens in a glass cockpit. It could also include AR glasses and other wearable devices.
Therefore, the overall category is mobile, with the sub-categories of personal mobile device, portable mobile device, or other (like an airplane, or AR goggles).
HEY! You! Where’d you get that GPU?
The other issue we had to deal with was the origin of the GPU.
SoCs have become amazingly complex while remaining small and using very little power; they are truly marvels of technology. Part of the success of the SoCs is due to advanced intellectual property (IP) in the form of processor designs. Such processors are the main CPU, typically a RISC-based design provided by ARM and a GPU design provided by one of four GPU IP suppliers, or in-house engineering. SoCs also contain video processors, supplied by IP providers or designed in-house, and digital signal processors (DSPs), which are almost exclusively designed in-house. There are other important elements in an SoC such as the input image system processor (ISP), the memory manager, the input-output (I/O) manager, and the clocking or timing mechanism.
There are two types of SoC builders: Integrated and Other.
Integrated SoC builders design and develop their own GPU and CPU. They use the ARM or x86 ISA for the CPU and design everything behind it. There are four integrated SoC companies that design and manufacture their own CPU and GPUs for the Personal platform: AMD, Intel, Nvidia, and Qualcomm.
All the rest of the SoC builders get their GPU design from the GPU IP suppliers. There are also four GPU IP suppliers: ARM, DMP, Imagination Technologies, and Vivante. The “others” may also have an
architectural license and design their own CPU as Apple and Samsung do.
We define SoC suppliers as companies that are designing, manufacturing, and selling SoC semiconductors. Under that definition Apple and Samsung are not listed because they don’t sell SoCs, but do build SoCs for their own products. Aside from the above, there are
more than four dozen other SoC suppliers— four dozen, can you believe it? So it’s pretty amazing, given all that competition, that Qualcomm can have such a dominant market share, yet they do.