ZHUHAI, China – Allwinner is hardly a chip company of the caliber of either Qualcomm or MediaTek. “Not even close,” you might say.
Yet, Allwinner (Zhuhai, China) is a red-hot apps processor company that everyone in the global tablet business is watching closely, since it dominates the booming non-iPad media tablet market.
Data from Chinese semiconductor industry sources identifies Allwinner as, by far, the number one apps processor supplier for Chinese tablets in 2012, followed by Rockchip, ViaTech, Amlogic and Vimicro.
Tucked away in Zhuhai, a 90-minute ferry ride from Shenzhen, Allwinner shares its roots with Actions Semiconductor, also located in Zhuhai. In fact, Allwinner was founded in 2007 from the exodus of Actions’ senior engineering team -- who clashed with their company over shares of the earnings from Actions’ 2005 IPO.
Allwinner’s strategy to focus on whitebox vendors and ODMs/OEMs in the region is almost straight out of the Actions playbook. The difference between the two companies today is that Actions -- saddled with many legacy products (i.e., MP3 players) -- is just now getting into the tablet market. Allwinner went whole-hog into the tablet market more than a year ago.
As for the company name, Francis Xue, vice president, explained: “We don’t want to become a company that booms with one product and disappears. Instead, we want all of us -- everyone in our industry including suppliers of parts and components and system vendors -- to win.” Hence: Allwinner.
Custom power management units
Just as Actions touts its mixed signal heritage, Allwinner claims expertise in mixed signals as what separates the company from its competitors in the tablet market. Indeed, according to Xue, Allwinner has been designing a separate, custom power management unit tuned for each of its apps processors.
“Analog/digital technology, lower power management and multimedia capabilities are the three strengths of Allwinner,” said Xue. When Allwinner rolled out its first product -- a video chip for personal video players -- in 2007, the company also designed its own power management unit to go with it.
By 2010, Allwinner launched a video chip that handles all formats including support for full HD. That led the company to grab a leading market share in personal video players by 2011.
From Allwinner’s perspective, there was no mystery in Apple iPad’s success. Allwinner’s capturing of the newly defined tablet market was no accident, either, Xue said.
“People use tablets for three things: Web surfing, streaming and gaming.” By the time the non-iPad tablet emerged, Allwinner already had all the fundamental technologies to enable the three key uses for tablets, Xue explained. By the end of 2011, claimed Xue, “We designed a chip set that perfectly met the demand of tablets, and we ended up defining the market.”
More important, it wasn’t Allwinner alone who was ready for the tablet revolution. “Those in the whole supply chain were also well prepared for this,” said Xue.
Allwinner’s approach in designing apps processor for the tablet market has been systematic, methodical and comprehensive. The company’s apps processors are designed to address the needs of a broad range of products within the tablet category. For example, the latest products Allwinner unveiled at the recent Mobile World Congress include the quad-core A31, quad-core A31s and dual-core A20.
Allwinner's current office is housed in one of the buildings at Zhuhai's Software Park -- surrounded by large trees and a pond