If the rumors are true, it’s about time. Last year, Nvidia chief executive Jen-Hsun Huang declared 2010 to be “the year of the tablet.” Only it turned out to be the year of the iPad, which did Nvidia no good because Apple used its own A4 chip in that machine.
But analysts say that both LG and Samsung are placing considerable orders for Nvidia’s dual-core Tegra 2 chips and will display new models at CES, which starts on Jan. 4 in Las Vegas. The upcoming Motorola Android 3.0 tablet for Verizon, code-named Honeycomb, also reportedly uses the Tegra 2. Nvidia has scheduled a press conference for noon on Jan. 5 at the show.
It’s about time for Nvidia to get some big payoff from the Tegra investments, which represent a major diversification opportunity to help Nvidia spread beyond PC graphics. Overall, Nvidia hasn’t had great luck with its customers for Tegra. Microsoft’s Kin phone and its Zune music player used the original Tegra chips, but they turned out to be duds. This isn’t all Nvidia’s fault, as Apple’s rivals have had an awful time coming up with designs that can challenge the dominance of the iPad.
Glen Yeung, an analyst at Citigroup, says that Samsung has placed a sizable order with Nvidia for Tegra 2 chips in the first half of 2011, for both cell phones and tablets. Analyst Ambrish Srivastava said the next Samsung Galaxy Tab will likely use Tegra 2 as well. Google has also reportedly made Tegra 2 into part of the reference platform — or standard design — for Android 3.0 devices.
Mike Rayfield, general manager of Nvidia’s mobile business, said in a recent blog post that variations on the super phone, or a smartphone on steroids, will be prominent at CES this year.
“I’d bet that CES 2011 will usher in the year that fully fledged superphones hit the market and really take off, building on the first stirrings of the concept that Google introduced with its phone,” Rayfield said. “The term superphone began to simmer earlier this year.”
He added, “The first attempts came with displays greater than four inches; a camera of five-plus megapixels for impressive photos and video; accelerometers, and even GPS. They started sporting true computer operating systems like Android or iOS, offering better video and gaming experiences. What you should expect at CES is for the superphone category to really reach full boil.”
For Rayfield, superphones will blend the features of a handheld with those of a PC and a gaming device. They will likely run Flash in a faster, hardware-accelerated mode. Other features are console-quality gaming and 1080p high-resolution high-definition video. Multitasking will be another common feature.
Tegra 2 has lots of rivals, including chips from companies such as Broadcom, Marvell, Qualcomm and Intel.