Competition in the handheld market continues to heat up, with Texas Instruments Inc. supplying the first non-Motorola processor for PDAs built by Palm Inc., and NeoMagic Corp. promising to bring a radical new processing architecture to 3G handsets next year.
Having previously used processors exclusively from Motorola Inc.'s Semiconductor Products Sector, Palm last week introduced two members of its Tungsten family of PDAs, both incorporating TI processors.
"These are the first products of the collaboration of TI and Palm, and we're very excited," said Danni Gladden-Green, a strategic marketing manager in TI'' wireless business unit in Dallas. "We're able to deliver very powerful performance without compromising battery life."
TI, which is the leading supplier of processors for cellular handsets, has had limited penetration in the PDA space, but believes its new relationship with Palm, the leading PDA maker, should lead to new opportunities.
NeoMagic detailed its Associative Processor Array (APA) architecture, which is based on memory circuit structures that can perform bit-level processing. The technology, the company said, will enable 3G handset makers to increase performance of multimedia applications using a low-megahertz, low-power solution.
Palm is using TI's OMAP1510 in its Tungsten T, a PDA for business users, and a combination of TI's TCS2100 GSM/GPRS solution and Motorola's 68000-based Dragonball in the Tungsten W, a high-end PDA that also incorporates Class 10 cellular capabilities.
The Tungsten T is the first Palm PDA to use an ARM architecture, although Palm said that it will use ARM in other products.
Motorola's new processor
Kyle Harper, global marketing manager of handheld computing at Motorola SPS in Austin, Texas, said the company will begin full production this month of the new DragonballMX1 processor, SPS' first applications processor based on ARM. The device will boost performance of the Dragonball series from 33 to 200MHz, Harper said. SPS has announced MX1 design wins with Siemens and France Telecom, but as yet none with Palm, its traditional stronghold in the PDA market.
"We have an extraordinarily successful applications processor business," Harper said. "The industry is going through a phase of experimentation and honeymoon with higher frequencies right now, but will get back to optimized power and performance."
Adrienne Downey, an analyst at Semico Research Corp., Phoenix, was surprised that Motorola has yet to move MX1 into production. By missing this round of introductions by Palm, she said, Motorola could be seriously damaging its future in the PDA sector.
"If their goal is to maintain a large share of the market, then I think they're at risk," Downey said. "This is good exposure for TI because Palm is king in the PDA market, although I don't think Tungsten will necessarily be a huge product."
David Rogers, marketing manager for the handheld division of Intel's Wireless Communications & Computing Group in Austin, said the company is making inroads beyond its traditional base in the PocketPC PDA camp. Sony recently introduced the CLIE PEG-NX70V PDA, the first PDA to use the Palm OS5 and the first Palm OS-based PDA to incorporate Intel's XScale processor.
NeoMagic last week introduced its MiMagic 5 applications processor, an ARM922-based device with integrated peripherals. The company also tipped its plans for APA, which it said can be combined beginning next year with the MiMagic 5 to address a potential market of up to 150 million handsets.
With APA, bit-level processing can be performed within an array of memory cells, providing "parallel processing in an intelligent cache," said Mark Singer, vice president of corporate marketing at NeoMagic, Santa Clara, Calif.
The company has demonstrated MPEG-4 compression capability based on algorithms developed for APA, and is developing additional algorithms for video, imaging, and graphics.
Singer said customers can combine NeoMagic applications processors with DSP-based communications processors from such companies as Analog Devices, DSPGroup, and Qualcomm to produce systems for 3G handsets.
"Intel is showing systems manufacturers how they can go from 400 to 600MHz," Singer said. "Who's going to put a 600MHz processor in a cell phone? We can show a roadmap going from 200MHz down to 50MHz, while providing the features and performance they want."
Singer said APA most closely resembles a content-addressable memory, "but not only does it have the ability to find content in memory, it can modify the contents of the memory," he said. "You have a single structure that both stores and processes data with the same set of circuits."
Will Strauss, an analyst at Forward Concepts Co., Tempe, Ariz., said handset makers like to have both their applications processor and communications processor, which is generally DSP-based, designed together from the outset.
"What NeoMagic is doing sounds intriguing, and if it works as promised, they have a shot at the 3G market," Strauss said. "But I don't know of a single cell phone shipping today that has separate RISC and DSP processors. They're on the same die. And I'm not sure a Qualcomm or ADI will want anything to do with them."