Mobile Devices and the GPUs inside

The market for portable devices (mobile devices that we can carry including notebooks) continues to soar in spite of economic difficulties and general uncertainty. Although personal devices are not necessarily replacing the PC, they are outselling the PC. All of these devices have a graphics processor (GPU) integrated in the device’s system on a chip (SoC) application processor.

JPR has just released a new market study, Mobile Devices and the GPUs Inside, and found that Qualcomm has over 42% of the total market for personal mobile devices, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Except for the four propriety (vertically integrated) suppliers, of the more than four dozen SoC suppliers, characterized as “Others” in Figure 1, Imagination Technologies is the overwhelmingly largest supplier of GPU IP. However, ARM and Vivante have shown tremendous growth year to year. (see table 1).

Other SoC suppliers that buy GPU IP are Allwiner, Freescale, Huawei, MediaTek, Rockchip, Wonder Media/VIA and others. These companies have participated in the feature phone market, and some of them have recently entered the smartphone, tablet, and handheld game machine segment.

One area that is fueling the growth of portable SoCs is the exploding tablet market in China, which is contributing significantly to the astounding growth that ARM and Vivante are experiencing. As a result of this tablet surge in China, dramatic changes are expected during the next 12 months. Last year Apple and Samsung introduced 7-inch tablets. This year, Microsoft brought out its Surface pro2 tablet, and Amazon introduced its 7-inhc tablet. The question is will the larger “phablet” phones obsolete 7-inch tablets?.

The market for SoCs with GPUs grew 32% from the first half of 2013 to the first half of 2014, with market shifts occurring as shown in Table 1 below.

Table 1: Market share changes for portable devices from 1H’13 to 1H’14

As a result of the turbulence in the market, we expect market shares to shift dramatically through 2015.

There is also market consolidation. In 2013 there were over four dozen semiconductor suppliers  producing application processors, today there are a little over three dozen. All of those companies fall into one of two categories: vertically integrated, or IP buyers. AMD, Intel, Nvidia, and Qualcomm are the vertically integrated companies with their own GPU and CPU designs; all of the other companies buy GPU IP from one of four IP suppliers (ARM, DMP, Imagination Technologies, or Vivante). The exceptions to this tidy categorization are Samsung, which has an internal GPU design as well as purchasing IP from ARM and Imagination Technologies.

The leading high-volume suppliers of application processors (i.e., SoCs) are Apple, Qualcomm, Samsung, and MediaTek. ARM supplies GPU IP for some of Samsung’s mobile phones, while Imagination Technologies’ GPU IP is used in Apple, MediaTek, and some of Samsung’s mobile phones and tablets.

The upcoming SoC suppliers with impressive design wins to their credit are Intel (proprietary GPU) and Nvidia (proprietary GPU). Qualcomm however, is the giant in the industry.