SAN JOSE, Calif. – Nokia may lag the shift to dual-core smartphone processors happening this year for lack of support from Microsoft, its new operating system partner.
Three companies are already shipping dual-core mobile processors and as many as eight will be by the end of the year, according to a talk at the Multicore Expo here. "Just about every high end smartphone" will move to dual-core processors in 2011, said Linley Gwennap, principal of the Linley Group (Mountain View, Calif.).
Three mobile operating systems already support multicore chips including Google's Android 3.0, Apple's iOS 4.3 and Blackberry 8. One of the big laggards is Windows Mobile Phone 7.
Microsoft removed multicore support from its Mobile Phone 7 OS, focusing the software only on a single-core Qualcomm chip set in an effort to get it to market quickly, said one source. The company knows it needs to update its mobile software more often than its desktop code, but it's not clear when it will add multicore support.
Handsets typically have a 12-24 month lifecycle, said Gwennap. The lack of multicore support "could limit Nokia until Microsoft can retrofit the software for dual core," Gwennap said.
Nokia has long been the leading supplier of cellphones, making its Symbian OS among the most popular mobile software platform. But the handset giant has been slow to respond to the concept of a Web-connected device pioneered by the Apple iPhone.
In the first quarter, Apple lead growth in smartphone unit sales, according to IDC.
Symbian^4 is expected to be released soon supporting multicore processors. However, Nokia recently struck a deal with Accenture to hire its Symbian team as part of a plan to layoff 7,000 people.
The LG Optimus smartphone was the first smartphone to use a multicore chip when it shipped in January, quickly followed by tablets from Motorola and Apple in February and March. Mobile multicore chips coming later this year include (in order of their expected appearance) the Samsung Exynos 4210, Qualcomm MSM8260, ST Ericsson U8500, Marvell Armada 2828 and Broadcom BCM 11311.
"ARM has a dual-core Cortex A9 reference design enabling the chip vendors to ship quickly. Most vendors are using it except Marvell and Qualcomm that designed their own multicore architectures.
The multicore chips will help speed core apps from the OS makers such as browsers, Flash and PDF viewers. They will also be used by third party game developers.
"It will take time for a broad base of multicore mobile software to appear," said Gwennap.
About 21 percent of mobile devices will use multicore processors in 2011 rising rapidly to 94 percent in 2015, Gwennap estimated. By 2013 more multicore processors will ship in mobile systems than in PCs and servers, he said.
The trend will be accelerated by the arrival in 2012 of dual-core chips based on ARM's Cortex A5 core replacing single-core Cortex A8 chips in mid-range phones. By 2014, those chips will get packed into low-cost smartphones, said Gwennap.
As much as 58 percent of smartphone sales in 2013 will be for mid- or low-cost handsets sold in emerging markets, said Richard Kramer, an analyst with market watcher Arete Research, speaking in a separate talk. "Cost will be the critical word in this industry because the vast opportunity for smartphones is in emerging markets," he said.
Designers hope to get smartphones to an $80 and even a $60 bill of materials in 2012. "If you spend any time in Shenzhen, you see dozens of companies working on that," Kramer said.