Here’s my latest DIY project, a smartphone based on a Raspberry Pi. It’s called – wait for it – the PiPhone. It makes use an Adafruit touchscreen interface and a Sim900 GSM/GPRS module to make phone calls.
Dave Hunt doesn’t just do photography, he’s a Maker through and through. And the components are out there, you just need to know where to look to buy them. Once purchased then you get down to brass tacks of what IS a cellphone anyways. And that’s what Dave has documented in his write-up of the PiPhone. Hopefully an effort like this will spawn copycats enough to trigger a landslide in DIY fab and assembly projects for people that want their own. I think it would be cool to just have an unlocked phone I could use wherever I wanted with the appropriate carrier’s SIM card.
I think it’s truly remarkable that Dave was able to get Lithium ion gel battery packs and TFT displays that were touch sensitive. The original work of designing, engineering and manufacturing those displays alone made them a competitive advantage to folks like Apple. Being first to market with something that capable and forward expansive, was a true visionary move. Now the vision is percolating downward through the market and even so-called “feature” phones or dumb-phones might have some type of touch sensitive display.
This building by bits and pieces reminds me a bit of the research Google is doing in open hardware, modular cell phone designs like the Ara Project written up by Wired.com. Ara is an interesting experiment in divvying up the whole motherboard into block sized functions that can be swapped in and out, substituted by the owner according to their needs. If you’re not a camera hound, why spend the extra money on a overly capable, very high rez camera? Why not add a storage module instead because you like to watch movies or play games instead? Or in the case of open hardware developers, why not develop a new module that others could then manufacture themselves, with a circuit board or even a 3D printer? The possibilities are numerous and seeing an effort like what Dave Hunt did with his PiPhone as a lone individual working on his own, proves there’s a lot of potential in the open hardware area for cell phones. Maybe this device or future versions will break somewhat of the lock current monopoly providers have on their closed hardware, closed source code products.
Race to sleep, is the new, new thing for mobile cpus. Power conservation at a given clock speed is all done through parceling out a task and with more cores or higher clock speed. All cores execute and comple the task then cores are put to sleep or a much lower power state. That’s how you get things done and maintain a 10 hour battery life for an iPad Air or iPhone 5s.
So even though a mobile processor could be the equal of the average desktop cpu, it’s the race to sleep state that is the big differentiation now. That is what Apple’s adopting of a 64bit ARM vers. 8 architecture is bringing to market, the race to sleep. At the very beginning of the hints and rumors 64bit seemed more like an attempt to address more DRAM or gain some desktop level performance capability. But it’s all for the sake of executing quick and going into sleep mode to preserve the battery capacity.
I’m thinking now of some past articles covering the nascent, emerging market for lower power, massively parallel data center servers. 64bits was an absolute necessary first step to get ARM cpus into blades and rack servers destined for low power data centers. Memory addressing is considered a non-negotiable feature that even the most power efficient server must have. Didn’t matter what CPU it is designed around, memory address HAS got to be 64bits or it cannot be considered. That rule still applies today and will be the sticking point still for folks sitting back and ignoring the Tilera architecture or SeaMicro’s interesting cloud in a box designs. To date, it seems like Apple was first to market with a 64bit ARM design, without ARM actually supplying the base circuit design and layouts for the new generation of 64bit ARM. Apple instead did the heavy lifting and engineering themselves to get the 64bit memory addressing it needed to continue its drive to better battery life. Time will tell if this will herald other efficiency or performance improvements in raw compute power.
During Intels annual investor day on Thursday, CEO Paul Otellini outlined the companys plan to leverage its multi-billion-dollar chip fabrication plants, thousands of developers and industry sway to catch up in the lucrative mobile device sector, reports Forbes.
But what you are seeing is a form of Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt (FUD) being spread about to sow the seeds of mobile Intel processors sales. The doubt is not as obvious as questioning the performance of ARM chips, or the ability of manufacturers like Samsung to meet their volume targets and reject rates for each new mobile chip. No it’s more subtle than that and only noticeable to people who know details like what design rule Intel is currently using versus that which is used by Samsung or TSMC (Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp.) Intel is currently just releasing its next gen 22nm chips as companies like Samsung are still trying to recoup their investment in 45nm and 32nm production lines. Apple is just now beginning to sample some 32nm chips from Samsung in iPad 2 and Apple TV products. It’s current flagship model iPad/iPhone both use a 45nm chip produced by Samsung. Intel is trying to say that the old generation technology while good doesn’t have the weight and just massive investment in the next generation chip technology. The new chips will be smaller, energy efficient, less expensive all the things need to make higher profit on consumer devices using them. However, Intel doesn’t do ARM chips, it has Atom and that is the one thing that has hampered any big design wins in cellphone or tablet designs to date. At any narrow size of the design rule, ARM chips almost always use less power than a comparably sized Atom chip from Intel. So whether it’s really an attempt to spread FUD, can easily be debated one way or another. But the message is clear, Intel is trying to fight back against ARM. Why? Let’s turn back the clock to March of this year in a previous article also appearing in Apple Insider:
This article is referenced in the original article quoted at the top of the page. And it points out why Intel is trying to get Apple to take notice of its own mobile chip commitments. Apple designs its own chips and has the manufacturing contracted out to a foundry. To date Samsung has been the sole source of the A-processors used in iPhones/iPod/iPad devices as Apple is trying to get TSMC up to speed to get a second source. Meanwhile sales of the Apple devices continues to grow handsomely in spite of these supply limits. More important to Intel is the blistering growth in spite of being on older foundry technology and design rules. Intel has a technological and investment advantage over Samsung now. They do not have a chip however that is BETTER than Apple’s in house designed ARM chip. That’s why the underlying message for Intel is that it has to make it’s Atom chip so much better than an A4, A5, A5X at ANY design ruling that Apple cannot ignore Intel’s superior design and manufacturing capability. Apple will still use Intel chips, but not in its flagship products until Intel achieves that much greater level of technical capability and sophistication in its Mobile microprocessors.
Intel is planning a two-pronged attack on the smartphone and tablet markets, with dual Atom lines going down to 14 nanometers and Android providing the special sauce to spur sales.
Lastly, Ian Thomson from The Register weighs in looking at what the underlying message from Intel really is. It’s all about the future of microprocessors for the consumer market. However the emphasis in this article is that Android OS devices whether they be phones or tablets or netbooks will be the way to compete AGAINST Apple. But again it’s not Apple as such it’s the microprocessor Apple is using in it’s best selling devices that scares Intel the most. Intel has since its inception been geared towards the ‘mainstream’ market selling into Enterprises and the Consumer area for years. It has milked the desktop PC revolution as it helped create it more or less starting with its forays into integrated micro-processor chips and chipsets. It reminds me a little of the old steel plants that existed in the U.S. during the 1970s as Japan was building NEW steel plants that used a much more energy efficient design, and a steel making technology that created a higher quality product. So less expensive higher quality steel was only possible by creating brand new steel plants. But the old line U.S. plants couldn’t justify the expense and so just wrapped up and shutdown operations all over the place. Intel while it is able to make that type of investment in newer technology is still not able to create the energy saving mobile processor that will out perform an ARM core cpu.