Atmel, Nvidia propel next-gen MIDs

Atmel, Nvidia propel next-gen MIDs

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By eeNews Europe

This reference design includes Nvidia’s Tegra 2 ARM-based processor and Atmel’s mXT1386 touchscreen chipset. The kit enables OEMs to speed up their development of Android-based smartphones, tablet PCs, mobile Internet devices and other products, said Binay Bajaj, senior product marketing manager of touch products at San Jose-based Atmel.

The Tegra 2 is a dual-core, ARM-based processor that runs at 1-GHz.  Atmel’s maXTouch touchscreen chipset family enables up to 16-simultaneous touches.

Not all OEMs will succeed in the next-generation smartphone and tablet PC markets, Bajaj said. But with this reference kit, OEMs will stand a fighting chance to gain ”a lot of traction,” Bajaj told EE Times.   

Other chip makers are also vying in this space.  In the mobile Internet processor front, Broadcom, Freescale, Intel, Nvidia, Marvell, Qualcomm, TI and others compete in the arena.

This market includes smartphones and tablet PCs, which is dominated by ARM-based processors. Intel Corp. is looking to crack the fray with  x86-based solutions.  

In the touchscreen chipset market, Atmel, Cypress, IDT, Renesas, Synaptics and others compete. Atmel Corp. appears to have the most momentum in the arena, which is expected to become even more competitive. ”Starting in 2012, we believe the landscape is set to become hyper competitive from new touch vendors, including Maxim, Avago, TI, Silicon Labs and ADI,” said analyst Doug Freedman of Gleacher & Co.

It is critical for OEMs to select the right chip solutions and for good reason in the arena: The stakes are huge. ”We believe the semiconductor industry is entering the fourth wave of computing or the ultramobile era,” said Gus Richard, an analyst with Piper Jaffray & Co., in a recent report. ”The iPad, iPhone, and Android operating system are all early winners in this new era, and they are leading the fourth wave.”

The smartphone market is projected to grow 30 percent in 2011 and jump another 25 percent in 2012, according to Gleacher & Co. Apple, HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, RIM, Samsung and others are fighting each other in this space.

Global shipments of tablets-a segment consisting of media tablets like Apple’s iPad as well as PC-type tablets-are set to rise to 242.3 million units in 2015, up by a factor of more than 12 from 2010, according to IHS iSuppli.

“The remarkable expansion of the tablet market from 2010 to 2015 will be driven by three successive waves of growth,” said Rhoda Alexander, director of monitor research at HIS, in a recent report.

“The first wave, which (hit) in 2010 and 2011, was created by the arrival of the iPad and the ensuing tsunami of demand for the device. The second wave, arriving in 2011 and 2012, will be propelled by a deluge of iPad competitors, particularly Android-based models,” she said. ”The third wave, which will turn up in 2013, will consist of a flood of models based on the Windows operating system that will expand the reach of tablets into traditional computer markets.”

While the iPad will lead annual tablet shipments through 2012, the increasing strength of media-tablet rivals combined with the advent of PC-type platforms will cause Apple to lose its majority of total unit shipments starting in 2013, according to the research firm.

”Tablets are the latest craze with more than 150 different tablets in development around the world. Only a handful of these devices will be successful en masse, meaning the other 140+ devices will be ‘me-too’ flops,” said Craig Berger, an analyst with FBR, in a recent report.

Today, Apple dominates the tablet market with some 80 percent share. Apple is designing its own processors and touchscreen devices for its iPhone 3 and iPad. However, Apple’s iPhone 4 makes use of Qualcomm Inc.’s MDM6600 baseband/RF transceiver.

In addition, ”Qualcomm is benefitting from generic smartphone strength with Snapdragon chips shipping into Motorola Droids and others, the HTC EVO, HTC Incredible, LG Expo, and phones by Sony-Ericsson, Acer, and Lenovo,” Berger wrote in a report.Last year, Qualcomm rolled out a new version of its Snapdragon chipset, based on an ARM architecture and a 28-nm process.

After a false start, Nvidia is gaining ground in the arena. ”Many of the sexiest smartphones and tablets at CES (were) being powered by Nvidia’s Tegra 2, including Motorola’s coming iPad competitor, the Motorola Atrix handset, and the LG Optimus 2X handset, a couple of potentially real competitive devices versus the iPhone,” Berger said.

Another player, Texas Instruments, said its OMAP 4430 is the applications processor inside the forthcoming BlackBerry Playbook tablet from Research in Motion.

Like the processor front, the touchscreen chipset market is competitive.  Citing strong demand in the market, Cypress Semiconductor Corp. recently implemented a ”significant manufacturing capacity expansion” for its growing touchscreen controller line.

Cypress’s Fab 4 in Bloomington, Minn., and Grace Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the company’s primary foundry partner, will triple the capacity for the S8 manufacturing process in 2011. Cypress also announced several design wins for its touchscreen chip line, mostly in the handset and other fronts.

”We do believe that first signs of wins using Cypress’ TrueTouch (touchscreen line) for tablets will become more visible in late-Q1/Q2. We note that Cypress’ touch solutions are at a discount verses Atmel’s at $6-8 in tablets and $3-4 in handsets,’’ said Freedman of Gleacher & Co.

Last week, another competitor, Synaptics Inc., announced the first line of capacitive multi-touch interface solutions for use with integrated displays, the ClearPad Series 3 and Series 4. With on-cell and in-cell integrated displays, Synaptics makes it possible to enable capacitive multi-touch sensing in mobile devices.

The ClearPad Series 4’s approach combines Synaptics’ ClearPad multi-touch technology with the display driver (DDI) into a single-chip solution that delivers the most advanced display noise management and capacitive sensing performance, the company claimed.    

”We believe Synaptics remains a viable competitor in handsets, while on track to become a preferred vendor for notebook touch-screens and lower-volume non-handset opportunities (gaming, PMP, handhelds) that favor high-service solutions via modules,’’ said Ian Ing, an analyst with Gleacher & Co., in a recent report.

But to date, Atmel has garnered what appears to be the most momentum in the market. The company’s maXTouch line exceeded its target from little or nothing in 2008 to a whopping $140 million in sales in 2010 alone, Freedman of Gleacher & Co. said.    

”MaXTouch is now expected to grow (twofold) in calendar 2011 towards $300 million,’’ Freedman said. Atmel ”continues to gain design wins on what we presume to be high-volume devices, including Nokia’s c7, Motorola’s Droid Pro and Defy and HTC’s Desire Z and Trophy 7 in the recent quarter. Recall Atmel already has wins with Droid X, Evo, Samsung Galaxy S, and Samsung Galaxy Tab.’’

To meet demand for its touchscreen chips, microcontrollers and other products, Atmel has expanded its foundry capacity at Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. Ltd. and United Microelectronics Corp. ”Added capacity (at TSMC and UMC), which will support revenue in excess of $600 million (per) quarter before the end of the year, should help draw-down lead-times even further, primarily at the distributor level,’’ he said.

”Stepping back, Atmel has done a tremendous job of winning MCU and touchscreen controller market share, with the firm likely to enjoy fundamental strength for some time to come,’’ said FBR’s Berger.

”Essentially, we think Atmel can penetrate a meaningful share of the non-Apple smartphone and non-Apple tablet/e-book reader market. We also assume that a high proportion of smartphones and even feature phone units will have touchscreens, enabling Atmel to more fully participate in these markets,’’ he said.

”Assuming a 27 percent incremental operating margin on its maXTouch chips (which could be a generous assumption in our view), we estimate that Atmel will see revenues of $306 million in 2011, $390 million in 2012, and $433 million in 2013’’ in touchscreen chips, he added.

This article first appeared on the EETimes website:

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