Chris Crotty, senior analyst at iSuppli Corp., called "video support" the probable force behind Apple's decision to split with PortalPlayer "for what will likely be a flash-based portable-media-player successor to the Nano." Crotty expects to see "the first flash-based PMPs from SanDisk and probably Apple" later this year. By 2009, iSuppli predicts a 70-30 market split between PMPs (which it defines as supporting video and photos as well as music) and music-only players.
Regardless of who replaces PortalPlayer, said Semiconductor Insights' Quirk, "the potential for this single announcement to spark widespread change is astounding," and "no one is safe."
PortalPlayer's relationship with Apple dates to the first iPod, announced in October 2001. Rather than design a complex ASIC for that first machine, Apple populated it with a dedicated MP3 decoder and controller chip from PortalPlayer, a Wolfson Microelectronics Ltd. stereo D/A converter, a flash memory chip from Sharp Electronics Corp., a Texas Instruments 1394 FireWire interface controller, and a power management and battery charging IC from Linear Technologies Inc.
Until last week, most everyone in the industry believed that PortalPlayer was a lock for the future. Some analysts ex- pressed surprise that Apple would move away from PortalPlayer because so much of its software will need to be adapted to a new central processor. Gwennap, however, said that any software porting task is eased by the fact that nearly all mobile systems-on-chip are based on ARM cores.
As PortalPlayer undertakes damage control, it must confront a host of questions: Did it devote too much energy to maintaining its design wins with Apple, at the expense of other customers and products? As more highly integrated off-the-shelf media processors flood the market, has it missed the boat? Can it compete with bigger chip companies' IP portfolios?
But for now, as Johnson said in last week's conference, PortalPlayer is "still digesting the news."
-- Additional reporting by Mark LaPedus and Junko Yoshida