Semiconductors fueling next-generation mobile devices and user experiences

Date:   Thursday , June 09, 2011

The transformation of the mobile phone from a voice communications device to a multimedia device integrating voice, video and data has revolutionized businesses and lifestyles. The smartphone market in India continues to show steady growth, with consumers opting for a rich array of features such as Web browsing and video streaming offered by these devices.

Mobile application platforms play an important role in enabling the use of Web 2.0 applications on mobile phones without compromising on the experience that users have on PCs.

According to analyst firm Gartner, the number of smart phones across the world will grow from 297 million units in 2010 to 792 million units by 2013. Gartner also forecasts that smart phones will comprise 38 percent of total mobile devises available in the market by 2013 (Source: Mobile Devices, Worldwide, 2008-2015, 1Q11 Update, Gartner Research, March 2011).

The growing popularity of smartphones and multimedia devices can be attributed to the versatility promised by these devices. Several enterprise smartphones and consumer multimedia feature phones have recently been launched, and mobile service companies are offering services built around them to their clients. Adding to it, the ease in usage and security features, continue to help make smartphones the best choice as next-generation communication devices, for both the consumers and business enterprises.

Among other technical components, semiconductor companies support mobile technologies with processors that help add many versatile applications into mobile devices. For instance, the OMAP processors from Texas Instruments (TI) enable OEMs to include future generation applications and processing power to cater to a wide range of devices that span beyond communications – from computing and multi-display capabilities to always-on Web browsing and more. With higher degrees of performance at lower power levels, TI’s OMAP 4 processors, for example, enable mobile device manufacturers to address applications needed for feature-rich handsets, while also providing head room and programmability to support applications that are yet to be imagined.

Imagine focusing a smartphone’s camera on the city skyline to view an information window “pop up” that points to locations where a discount sale is going on. Or, imagine replacing current phone contact lists with a dynamic video feed, which can display real-time GPS information about contacts’ location, availability or even their latest message to social networks? Sounds futuristic, doesn’t it? In reality, these capabilities are coming to fruition today, thanks to advanced processors.

Being intelligent and fast, processors today deliver content in a variety of formats, including MPEG4, H.264, MP3, AAC and 3D graphics delivered via the Web or locally on a device. Processors can create, store and access higher-quality, multimedia-rich data, yet still provide much longer battery life, resulting in an optimal balance of high mobile computing performance and low power consumption.

Future ramifications of such processors are many and exciting. For instance, they can enable the use of videos for analysis and training, instead of just surveillance in the security field. On the playing field, coaches can help players analyze performance by the millisecond, leveraging high-quality, smartphone video recordings at high frame rates, or by capturing high-speed images.

Mobile devices are truly undergoing a revolution. Viewers can download videos on portable devices and watch them on a home theater or HD-quality TV via HDMI or Dolby Surround sound. Further, they can connect a mobile device’s FM radio to a home theater sound system and enjoy high-quality music. Electronic gadgets can pack multiple functions, yet provide the quality and performance of a dedicated device. For example, smartphone cameras could equal still cameras in terms of image quality with many value-added features such as red eye reduction, face detect and others. In addition, processors can be used for telepathic vision – simply focusing the camera on the ‘view’ can elicit real-time response about the happenings at that place, acquaintances present there, and other interesting trivia related to that area.

Furthermore, apart from digital photo frames where you can upload content anytime and anywhere, OMAP processors can enable digital advertising boards, which have the ability to change content as per the time of the day, focusing on school-going families in the morning, families on weekends and office-goers during the rush hours.

Over the last couple of years, there has been an increased buzz in India with the release of a number of smartphones and enterprise-driven communication devices. Corporate users and teenagers have enthusiastically adopted devices with more multimedia content.

While the possibilities are many, the education sector presents one of the largest opportunities for semiconductor technologies to impact lives in India. The mere mention of ‘school’ conjures images of heavy school bags in India and other developing countries. How wonderful it would be to do away with books and instead use low cost eReader devices. Such a device would not only contain the entire curriculum, but also convert teacher’s instructions into text and enable students to deliver tests and network within the classroom.

Moreover, in the near future, it will not be surprising for parents to receive a video recording of their child’s recitation at school to help them analyze his/her performance. As the video is being recorded, the live content could be streamed to the grandparents who could view the performance from the comfort of their home, while a high-quality shot could be extracted from the video and uploaded into the digital photo frame at home or on online photo albums.

Semiconductor devices can also be leveraged in colleges and universities to conduct innovative projects. Be it building an energy meter, a low-cost custom laptop, medical applications that compose 3D images from a series of 2D images, real-time location and tracking devices or real-time weather maps for farmers with price tickers, students could build all such innovative projects inexpensively using solutions like OMAP processors. Providing students with such platforms will also address the common needs of our countries for innovation and pave the way for products built to suit our exact requirements.

Another area where India can hugely benefit from semiconductor technology is travel and traffic management. With roads becoming better, a new breed of travelers is exploring the countryside on fast-moving vehicles. However, detailed maps and directions are still in short supply. Using appropriate processors and connectivity technologies, travelers can access real-time 3D maps and travel-related information regardless of location. In-car video for rear seat viewing also contains a strong potential for markets where the investment of the device is not blocked by content availability. Semiconductors can also improvise traffic management by enabling remote traffic control. A central traffic control room could supervise large areas by utilizing sophisticated cameras providing gridlock information. Traffic control personnel could utilize audio broadcasts or ad-board notifications to direct the traffic.

The advanced multimedia capabilities of semiconductor devices will also be useful to the media and entertainment industry. India’s film industry could leverage the technology to achieve superior picture quality and special effects. That, combined with the benefits the technology brings to sports – or rather cricket, in our context – makes it a perfect fit for the India markets.

Semiconductors can truly bring people closer by integrating worlds in new and interactive ways. By catalyzing changes in both – the micro as well as macro levels of existence – they promise to improve the quality of life. The world is watching the progress India’s technology market is making. We need to continue experimenting – our technologies are bound to enable even more innovative solutions.

The author is Senior Director - Worldwide Wireless Software Development, Texas Instruments India