Last year, we asked what Jen-Hsun (NVIDIA's CEO) would do in order to make predictions on NVIDIA's course in 2006. Although a purely speculative article, we made a case on why Matrox would be a target on NVIDIA's acquisition list. Our predictions didn't pan out, but it turns out that we still weren't too far out.
In last year’s article, we took a simple approach to make predictions on the market. First, we identified the “big markets” of the industry that NVIDIA was interested in. Then, we identified NVIDIA’s weaknesses in each of these industries. Finally, we looked for acquisitions that would make sense (i.e. both NVIDIA and the other company would benefit).
We accurately identified smartphones/cell phones/and portable media devices as the number one "big market" of the future. Unfortunately, I did not predict acquisitions in this market because I reasoned that NVIDIA had sufficient resources for a solid mobile graphics platform, and it would take time before there was sufficient content available to make these types of projects worthwhile.
Hindsight is 20/20 and the critical gap in the article was realizing that while the GoForce team had produced superior products compared to the competition, it would only be possible to develop something outstanding with company acquisitions.
It’s all about battery life
As everyone knows, usability is king when it comes to portable devices -- that's why the original Palm Pilot and Treo's do so well and why the iPod dominates the portable music player market. The key to optimized battery life on a portable device is integration, and while the GoForce was an efficient mobile graphics processor, there's no way a discrete mobile GPU can compete against a equally well-designed fully integrated solution. "Equally well-designed" is a key point because the GoForce 5500 can decode MP3's at approximately 20mW, while the PP5022 in the iPod Mini has a stated power consumption of 60-80mW while decoding MP3s (The PP5021 in the current 5.5G iPod's is reported to have the same power footprint according to http://investor.portalplayer.com/downloads/2005AR.pdf ).
What did NVIDIA do in 2006?
In 2006, NVIDIA formally acquired Hybrid Graphics (middleware company) and Portal Player (system-on-a-chip; famous for their use in iPods) and of course, rumors that they've hired ex-Intel CPU engineers (Stextar) and of course the NVIDIA Bangalore Team that developed the nForce 680i and has also been actively developing handheld technology for a product that has yet to be announced. Likewise, we’ve always heard rumors of a R&D team at NVIDIA focused on “clockless” or asynchronous CPU/GPUs.
With NVIDIA aggressively pursuing their smart phone and portable media device program during 2006, it is possible that NVIDIA’s next-generation system-on-chip is ready for production. If we assume that this chip is ready though, all we need to ask is WWJD: "What would Jobs do?"
My prediction for 2007: Apple will be using NVIDIA’s next-generation portable technology in their next-generation portable device: a mobile phone.