MOUNTAIN VIEW, Calif.--Tomorrow’s mobile application processor will not only be capable of rendering holographic displays, high-definition augmented reality, real-time voice translation, natural speech interaction and multi-view synthesis, but may also be able to handle neuro, fuzzy-based and even humanistic intelligence according, to Texas Instruments Inc.
Talking about the capabilities its Omap 4 processor has today and those working their way down the pipeline as Omap 5 approaches sampling readiness in 2012, TI’s Avner Goren, director of strategic marketing for wireless terminals, outlined use case scenarios including smell sensors, environment sensors and multi-mode gesture sensors.
TI, which has its humble consumer roots in calculators, now sees a place for itself in a wide number of consumer electronic markets, including smartphones, tablets, e-book readers, car infotainment systems, low-powered computers, virtualized, terminals, portable terminals and even robotics.
“Many different industry segments are starting to pick Android as an operating system because it comes with an entire ecosystem of its own,” Goren explained, adding that TI is becoming increasingly adept at building additional software elements on top of its hardware to tailor Omap for different electronics segments.
“The R&D investment in Omap is significant, but tailoring and repackaging it for, say, use in cars or tablets is an incremental effort,” he said.
Indeed, with software engineering becoming ever more significant in the hardware space, TI claims to have upped the ante on its competitors, working quickly to make Omap the platform of choice for major players like Google and Microsoft.
Omap 4 was recently singled out by Google as the flagship chip to run its upcoming Ice Cream Sandwich (Android 4.0) operating system, while Microsoft named TI as one of the main ARM-based platforms set to run next generation Windows (Windows 8) on.
In terms of devices, TI can also cite a reel of impressive design wins for Omap, including the Barnes & Noble NOOKcolor – running on the Omap3621- the RIM PlayBook tablet – running Omap4430 and WiLink 7.0- the ultra-thin Toshiba “Excite” AT200 -Omap4430- the revamped Motorola Droid RAZR -Omap4430, WiLink 7.0- and the much-hyped Samsung Galaxy Nexus – running on Omap4460.
In terms of why TI’s Omap platform seemed to be giving competing platforms a run for their money, Goren said the main differentiator lay in the firm’s “smart multicore architecture” as well as an emphasis on high security and “extraordinary user experiences.”
Smart multicore as a strategy involves TI’s usage of two ARM Cortex-A9s on the chip aimed at running high-level HLOS and applications, while two other ARM Cortex-M3s work to offload all real-time control processing, freeing up the main CPU. The firm believes in sticking with this dual-core strategy, even as rival Nvidia plots its route to quad core systems on chip.
Nvidia will use four A9 cores for its Kal-El quad core SoC, but Goren maintains TI’s strategy of aiming for dual core A15s will ultimately pay off. “A single A15 is more powerful and has a better instruction set and lower power,” he claimed, noting that this meant being able to do more on a device with the same battery power it took to do less.
“My belief is that the market will understand the difference between A9 and A15, customers will understand that it’s all about balance,” he said.
Omap also includes programmable accelerators including digital signal processing, image co-processing (IMX), and display controller flexibility.
“The size of silicon is becoming a limiting factor,” Goren asserted, noting that thermal envelopes are starting to become a seriously limiting factor in that it is simply becoming impossible to put endless amounts of silicon inside a device, lest it overheat in such a small chassis.
“That’s why we believe in making smart choices and decisions over what we put in there,” he said.
Goren promised that Omap 5 would be even more impressive than its Omap 4 predecessor, with its dual ARM Cortex-A15s able to reach up to 2-GHz of performance, an SGX544-MP2 GPU capable of 177M?/s, dual-channel LPDDR2 or DDR3 memory and a video encode/decode standard of 1080p60 and 1080p30, respectively. The chip will be manufactured on a 28-nm CMOS low-power process and sport two additional ARM Cortex-M4 processors to help with CPU offloading for video, imaging, 3D graphics and more.
Great question, Luis. We (our TI team) made a strategic decision in 2008 to phase out of the baseband segment and focus on two key Wireless growth areas: OMAP processors and wireless connectivity solutions. We continue to see proof that this was the right decision, especially as multimedia capabilities are innovating at twice the pace of access technology. This rapid rate of industry innovation calls for a discrete approach to enable faster time-to-market for manufacturers delivering the latest, highest-performance user experiences.
Our standalone approach is coupled with a solid, two-pronged modem strategy: 1) We support a broad range of access technologies, allowing us to integrate our platform with multiple standards from proven modem suppliers or OEMs with proprietary solutions. 2) We’re leading efforts to optimize chip-to-chip (C2C) interface technology that enables best-in-class applications processors plus modem solutions. Among other benefits, C2C allows removing the modem DDR, hence memory cost and PCB footprint saving. We license C2C to major modem vendors, and have partnered with Arteris to widely deploy it. We also actively support the MIPI Alliance’s standardization of the Low Latency Interface (LLI), targeted for OMAP 5 integration. OMAP 4 includes a pre-cursor to LLI, an ad-hoc C2C standard.
At a high level, I hope this helps answer your question. Thanks again for the question, and thanks to Sylvie for taking the time to meet with me. – Avner
Interesting to read about TI’s intentions for it’s coming Omap 5 processor. But I have questions, how does this processor relate to the baseband and other processors needed for making a mobile phone. I think TI doesn’t have a baseband processor for GSM or for 3G or 4G right? Wouldn’t this lack put TI in a disadvantage against some like Qualcomm with its Snapdragon processors? Qualcomm is a big name in wireless communications and having a main processor for a complete solution or ecosystem for mobile phones sounds like the one to beat.
TI’s chip surely sounds like a strong competitor and the good thing is that it already has design wins like the Samsung Galaxy Nexus (why did they call it Nexus… it confuses me with the Google Nexus S). What I do think is a good idea is working with Android in mind. That Google OS keeps evolving and I think it will get better by the time.
While OMAP is used in some of these devices, I would expect it is far from "most".
Having worked with OMAPS for th last few years I must say I do like many of the OMAP features. The POP packages are really net/small and provide a tiny footprint system.