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Spillikins 177. ARM Processors in 2014

As promised this issue is completely devoid of Nokia as I have covered most of the recent events around this company in Spillikins 176.

Spillikins 176. Nokia Tragedy: Elops Treason

I have to say that lying on a beach and living in a quiet small village sets you in a certain mood so bear with me and my selection of topics. Today I want to talk more about the world around us and vacations than technologies. I say I made it about fifty fifty so that you dont get bored with my pastoral notes.

You might have heard the latest rumors about Samsung developing its social network called Samsung-Facebook. I am pretty sure that these rumors were created by Facebook investors who are desperate to attract any sort of attention to this social network and thus raise the stock value.

Contents:

  1. Japanese Phone Ad: Back to Nature
  2. Charger Standards
  3. The expansion of the Man
  4. Skins vs. Protected Phones
  5. CPU and Graphics
  6. microSD Prices

Japanese Phone Ad: Back to Nature

Japan seems to live in another dimension. We often publish articles on Japanese phones and you can get a quick review of a number of them here.

This time Japan blew my mind by building a 44 meter (145 ft.) long xylophone to express unity with nature and promote a phone with wooden chassis.

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Charger Standards

Despite my being on vacation, I find the time to do a bit of work too. Every time I am on the way, I suddenly feel the urge to finish everything I have started. I can sit down the night before the flight and finish off a few articles started some time ago. When traveling I always have everything to continue working even if I am positive that I wont have the time. This is just the way i live and work.

I always carry a set of cables, chargers, card readers etc. in my backpack just in case. But for the first time in many years I forgot to put a miniUSB cable back in. I am staying in a small village that does not have an electronics store and as the locals told me the nearest town is also not much help in this respect.

I only use a miniUSB cable to transfer videos from my handy cam. The problem is not a blocker as I can remove the HD or use an SD card and the reader on my laptop. Usually I can find a second way but it made me think about in what ways we depend on standards.

One of my colleagues was on a business trip to San Jose and forgot to take his Samsung laptop charger. There are plenty of computer stores in San Jose but the problem was his laptop was European and there were no original chargers. He spent $50 on a universal charger with a set of adapters none of which fit.

This is one of the reason I root for unification and standardization of everything. I dream of the time when all you need is one cable. I feel a bit alarmed about the news that iPhone 5 is going to feature a new type of charger interface. It means that my collection of iPhone docks might become useless. But I hope that the old Apple tradition of sticking to the same charger interfaces will prevail.

I was quite disappointed when I learned that the MHL in Galaxy S3 is different from the one in Galaxy S2 even though they are both microUSB. It was done for an obvious reason to make profit on accessories but I think charger standards should not be used for those purposes.

When the European Commission obliged manufacturers to adopt microUSB as the charger standard for phones I was skeptical and in some ways I was right: Apple never adopted microUSB while other manufacturers now use it but problems still arise. MicroUSB still does not guarantee trouble free work. Manufacturers use different specs and HTC alone used different microUSB specs not so long ago. Besides the specs depend on the specified current 0.5A or 1A so the charger might not work on your phone. But all in all, the microUSB as a single standard is, of course, a very good thing.

I am all for manufacturers making crazy phone accessories but I really would like to see them unified and cross compatible the world is certainly ready for it. Tell me what are your views on unification and standards. Should manufacturers adopt common stndards or is it worth creating proprietary ones?

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The expansion of the Man

Since I was sixteen I have been traveling a lot and trips became a routine. Anyway, I was never a big fan of traveling. I seek new experience not new places. Immanuel Kant spent all his life in one town but had plenty of food for though to change the European philosophy. Unfortunately, I am no way nearly as smart as Kant and often find trips inspirational.

It has become a tradition for many people to read on trips and log train trips certainly set you in the right mood for it. I like reading about explorers like Marco Polo, conquistadors and polar expeditions. I often read about the place I am going to visit on my way there. The longest trip I have ever had was the Vladivostok to Moscow train. That trip was a mock-up of the whole Russia for me. As the kilometers pass you observe vast wilderness turn into civilization.

Another big trip was a plane from Moscow to South Africa: the comfort of the business lounge and the complaints of my companion who was moaning about how long the flight was. I, on the other hand, kept thinking that my great grandfather would have to spend his entire lifetime to make this trip we spend only a day on. But humans are ungrateful and tech the modern technologies for granted.

Man has not only harnessed Earth but also made every remote spot on it available in a matter of hours. Today I think the main criterion of wilderness is the absence of cell networks. The first time I was in Himalayans I carried a heavy box of satellite phone as it was the only means of communication back in the day. Ten years later the ascend was more of a picnic: cell networks everywhere as well as business. Tourists are thrilled by the fame of those places but the ascend is no at all dangerous nowadays. I think today it is more dangerous to ride a roller coaster than visit Himalayans.

The first time in history we have something common for all people on Earth. I talk about the Internet, of course. The uber network covering the entire planet. Cellular networks are a parallel quasi global network partly interlaced with the Web with the old fashioned functions of transmitting voice and short texts.

The village I am staying in is not fully covered by cell networks. The beach does not have it so when I need to make a phone call I go downtown. It is a nice place to forget about the civilization and city noise. They turned an abandoned military base into a very nice hotel I now frequent. Then they got cell and Wi-Fi which is by the way available on the beach. Right now the cell only supports EDGE but they promise 3G soon. All this makes the life tempo very different from what we have in big cities.

Compare to Frankfurt a giant of an airport. Dozens of planes land and take off every minute and the sky presents a quilt of plane exhaust fumes. The world has become a very small place and there is Internet even on the International Space Station. Everywhere the man goes the Web follows.

I want to switch to cinema for a moment. I have seen the new Prometheus and think it is one of the best Sci-Fi movies ever. At first, it was meant to be a prequel to the Alien but later grew into a movie of its own. It is a very good, interesting and dynamic movie made to meet PG-13 requirements so it is fit for family viewing. Another new movie I want to bring in the conversation is the Battleship also featuring a clash of two civilizations. What I find common in these two movies is the stupidity of the characters. In the Battleship humans send a signal to an alien planet a priori expecting a friendly race to come visit them. In the Prometheus Terrans explore an alien military base with impossible naivete expecting to get a warm welcome. I think the script writers made a very good analogy of human curiosity and the proclivity for mad experiments. We hurry to implement and use new technology before we learn everything about it. Scientist failed to prove that cellular networks are dangerous for people. One of the reasons for that is speed at which cell technologies develop. About five years ago we got the data proving that the cell networks of 1980-s are actually be harmful. Except for a look at the past these data tells us nothing as we have passed several generations of mobile networks since then. In the US the congress wants to make the standards for radiation levels of phones. It is more of a populist move because since the first phones the radiation levels of phones have been going down and the technology becomes safer.

Some people exploit basic human fears and the fearsome word 'radiation' selling protective underwear, pyramids and 'anti-radiation' stickers. Of course, all this due to ignorance of many who don't understand what sort of radiation is meant.

Albert Einstein once said that after bees disappear humanity will only have four years left. The ecosystem is interdependent and absence of one link may lead to extinction of another. Last week I was shocked by the new that the Venus Flytrap (the predator plant eating insects) ceased to catch insects. It used to have to catch them to get the necessary micro elements but now with all the pollution it no longer has to and gets everything it need from soil evolution triggered by Man.

Another factor of human pollution is the electromagnetic waves all mobile devices use. I received the following letter from Arkhipov Alexander, a reader of mine:

Hello,Eldar!

Last week-end (6/12/12) I was listening to a report on VestiFM about the vanishing of bees in industrial areas (still available on Vesti-FM).

It began 5-6 years ago in the US and has now spread to Europe and Russia. Bees are dying out worldwide. Scientist relate this phenomenon to electromagnetic pollution (cellular and satellite communications) which bees fail to adapt to.

According to the report bees might become extinct in industrial areas by 2030.

I have never been a green activist but then the reporter said that great many plants rely on bees as the only source of pollination. No bees, no plants, no oxygen. This may be an oversimplified but an apocalyptic image all the same.

I would like to hear your opinion on this phenomenon. Tomorrow scientists may prove all the data and the forecast. What will happen then? Are we ready to give up mobile communications or are we going to selfishly continue using it and hope scientists come up with a solution soon? Personally I cannot imagine my life without a cell phone even though there were none just 30 years ago.

I think everyone should be made aware of this problem.

I think it is too soon to ditch mobile networks because we don't have any conclusive data yet and I think it is unlikely scientists will get it during my lifetime. Remember that mobile networks develop a lot faster than we can research their effects on the environment so any proven data is not relevant for the present moment. I certainly don't want to become one of those Hollywood characters who step into the unknown only to find the end of them. I also don't think the cell networks are the real issue here. In 2008 due to the use of pesticides about half a billion bees dies in Germany. That story was a bombshell but as far as I know the situation with bees is back to normal in Germany once again. The full story is here.

I have not found any similar resources on the web claiming that cell networks are killing bees. However, I think we should be careful with new tech and I see genetically modified food as the Russian roulette as no one can predict what effect it will have on the next generations. People forget to think about what effect they have on the environment. Every piece of trash left lying around will have its effect on the ecosystem. The big picture is made of tiniest elements. I hope that humans find sense to stop the madness and be responsible with their planet. By the way, the second time I visited the Himalayans I found the place extremely littered. The Civilization comes fast and carries its fruits.

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Skins vs. Protected Phones

Every time I go to a beach I think whether to take the phone with me. I go to beaches only two or three times year and it is not a criterion I use when getting a new phone. Phones with key pads and sand make a bad mixture: two moths after the beach you can still hear the keys screech. Modern touchscreen phones also hate sand and even Gorilla Glass or actual glass can withstand scratches from sand. So if you really care about safety of your phone you will either leave at the hotel or get some sort of protection for it.

The simplest solution is to get a protective skin for your phone. iPhone has got the biggest selection of skins. I chose Phantom by Case Mate as I am long familiar with this company and value it for quality. It costs about $50 in the US and is available in many colors. The official web page is here.

It won't protect the phone from water but it does it job well when it comes to impacts. I dropped mu iPhone a few times but it works just fine. Besides it has a screen protection and covers all the slots to keep the phone safe from sand. The downside is that the screen protector is not very tight and moisture gets in between it and the screen as you can see on the picture:

This skin makes iPhone less elegant make it look like one of those protected phones. Most importantly however is to keep the phone safe from sand getting inside. Only the camera remains unprotected but it lets you to make the same quality pictures. Only remember that the skin does not make it water resistant so leave when you go swimming.

An alternative method of staying safe is to get a special 'vacation' phone. You are offered a wide range of protected phones and right now I am testing one of it called Senseit P3. It is a Chinese phone and at about $150 it has class IP67 (MIL-810) protection so you can literally swim with it. I even did a bit of underwater photo shooting the result leaves much to be desired but you can do it. Inside of it is a regular MTK platform with very ordinary specs: 3.2 Mpix camera, a loud loudspeaker, one SIM (I expected at least two), a compass, barometer, pedometer and a rather nice user interface. It is certainly worth its buck.

So when getting ready for a beach you can be extra careful with your phone. Alternatively, you can get a protective skin or a bag to keep your phone safe. Finally, you can buy a cheap spare phone for vacations you wont miss if you ruin or lose. The last variant will also let you get a rest from all the social networking you usually do.

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CPU and Graphics

Just about a decade ago the standardization of phone platforms was only beginning. By standardization I mean the use of the same components and the same software in most phones. Manufacturers no longer develop phones from scratch but rather use a lot what has been well tested and just change some specs or the chassis. The profit of this approach is obvious as the development time is reduced dramatically.

Just look at the modern Android smartphones: they are all basically the same with very few differences and almost none significant ones. A manufacturer can make its phone unique only by developing own technologies. Today Android manufacturers use UI overlays to make their phones stand out but Google is trying to make the UI unified and discourage add-ons. So even with a UI overlay it is hard to make a phone unique. However there are still good examples of UI shells like MIUI which is even better than Sense by HTC and other similar products. Sense UI proves that a manufacturer that has over five phones in its product range cannot keep a proprietary shell up to date. HTC now needs to adapt the Sense UI for a great number of phones in different price ranges causing a great strain on the company. It is a lot easier for Apple with only one phone to care about. But even when it comes to the iPhone developers are worried about the next one and how different it will be from iPhone 4S and how much work will have to be done to adapt the current software to it.

Last week HTC's CEO said in an interview to the Wall Street Journal that his company will not be making budget phones focusing mainly on high performance models. He was not entirely honest about it the truth is HTC does not have the resources to be present in all the price ranges. And it cannot allow putting resources into adapting Sense to low performance phones.

You might get the idea that we are about to have all phones absolutely the same soon. Quite contrary actually, I expect the market to see great changes in late 2013 and 2014 with lots of new and unique features in the next gen phones.

For starters, most modern smartphones use ARM based processors which were developed exclusively for mobile devices and offered very low power consumption. British ARM has made a ton of money off of this architecture and today the CPUs you keep hearing about like Snapdragon by Qualcomm or Tegra by NVIDIA are all ARM based.

Chip set manufacturers license the ARM core and operate in the specs range set by the ARM architecture to modify it and bring new features. Until recently though AR processors have been produced almost not modified as compared to the ARM specs because manufacturers had to respond fast to the soaring smartphone market and did not have the time and frankly did not need to modify ARM processors. Today however, the market is getting quite saturated so manufacturers has to come up with something new and unique.

In January 2011 at CES NVIDIA announced that it bough an ARM license and began to development of its own mobile CPUs under the name Denver to be released in 2013. Back then many did not take this news seriously but I saw how important it is for the market in noted it in this issue of the Spillikins.

NVIDIA is not working on another ARM clone but rather developing a new CPU to go hand in hand with their graphical solutions like Kepler: NVIDIA's most advanced mobile graphics to be featured in Tegra 4 and Tegra 5. NVIDIA is preparing a big leap in mobile graphics it is too early to say what impact it is going to have on the market but I am sure its rivals are worried.

The guys inside ARM understand perfectly that mobile graphics is becoming more and more important. Galaxy S3 for example is using an advanced version of Mali-400 which has a poorer performance as compared to Tegra 3 which makes it necessary to update it. So ARM has come up with the new Mali-450.

While Mali-400 was meant for top range products its successor's goal is low and mid range phones starting from $250. ARM is giving it double the performance of the original and the capability to grow up to eight cores. It is an intermediate solution while Arm is working on Mali-T604 (to be used together with ARM A15). The promo video cannot tell us about the actual graphic quality but we know that Samsung is going to use it in its updated version of S3 (which will also feature a new CPU).

Let us now meet the HSA Foundation an alliances brought together to fight NVIDIA:

The alliance is made of Texas Instruments, AMD, ARM, Samsung (possibly), MediaTek and Imagination. This whole thing might not work as the main constituent of it is AMD who officially claims to be using ARM to fight back Intel. The licensing of the ARM architecture concerns here not mobile devices as one would expect but security complexes (ARM 5 core). So AMD is going to use this core for servers and desktop PCs.

The biggest thing about this announcement in my opinion is that they talk about GPU-CPU link and unification of all components for mobile devices. So after all, it is not about AMD at all even though it is presented as the head of this foundation. It is basically an alliance against NVIDIA and its Denver project which is going to combine GPU with an ARM CPU. The fact that MediaTek, TI and Samsung are on board I think proves it.

So I think we can expect a big struggle in 2014 between all sorts of customized ARM processors and chipsets. I am sure it will give us more powerful and less power consuming solutions. As for Intel, after having missed out on all mobile devices I don't see a big place on the mobile market for it any time soon. Right now they are trying to sell something people did not even need yesterday.

I hope you liked this little tour into some of the basics of the market and you are like me interested in the future of the market.

Further reading:

Detailed review of HTC Sense under Android 2.1

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microSD Prices

The flood in South Eastern Asia cause the prices for hard drives to go up (15-20% in the US). The demand for storage device was higher than the supply.

Samsung is the biggest manufacturer of flash memory and is interested in the prices to remain on the same level or go up. Last six months however the prices for flash memory have been going down and quite rapidly too especially when microSD cards are concerned. Since January 2012 the prices for microSD cards plummeted by roughly 50%: a 2GB card costs $1.15, $1.35 for a 4GB card, $4.95 for a 16GB one (average wholesale prices). Samsung limited the supply to counteract the trend and the price for a 2GB card went up to $1.6. The price fluctuations have not yet ended but manufacturers believe it will remain on about today's level which profitable for Samsung and other flash memory manufacturers.

I wonder whether the regulatory bodies consider current Samsung actions legal. Samsung already has a history of price fixing and in 2010 it was fines 145.7 million for the proved price fixing in the period of 1998 to 2002. On that account several other manufacturers were fined like Infineon and Hynix Semiconductor were fined 56.7 and 51.5 million respectively, Hitachi 20.4M, Toshiba - 17.6M, Mitsubishi Electric 16.6M, NEC - 10.3M, Nanya Technology - 1.8M.

P.S. The week had too many news to cover them all. Next time I want to talk about the return of the stylus and mobile traffic prices. Have a nice week and good luck!

Do you want to talk about this? Please, go to our Forum and let your opinion be known to the author and everybody else.

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Related links

Spillikins 174. What Benchmarks Mean

Spillikins 175. Samsung To Purchase Nokia?

Spillikins 176. Nokia Tragedy: Elops Treason

Eldar Murtazin (eldar@mobile-review.com)
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Translated by Robert Mugattarov (mugattarov@gmail.com)

Published — 29 June 2012

Have something to add?! Write us... eldar@mobile-review.com

 

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