Microsoft’s Surface RT tablet rollout came and went without much fanfare. Although Redmond’s first crack at the tablet market received relatively positive reviews, consumers seem unfazed and many of them are choosing to trade in their new tablets.
However, that doesn’t seem to be enough for CEO Jen-Hsun Huang. According to Mobile Review, the chipmaker is planning to kick things up a notch, by directly entering the smartphone and tablet business with a bit of help from its partners.
Nvidia is said to be working on reference smartphone and tablet designs. The designs will be built by contract manufacturers, under Nvidia’s direct control. The partners are apparently small regional players, basically retail chains who already offered cheap Chinese tablets under their brands. It is unclear whether traditional Nvidia AIBs will also join the effort, but it seems more than likely, as some of them have already started making inroads in the tablet space, without Nvidia’s support.
The idea seems to hold water. Nvidia could control the feature sets and performance of reference designs, while regional players could take care of distribution and retail. Nvidia partners could end up with cheap, yet competitive devices capable of taking on first-tier devices with fancier brands. The drive is said to be scheduled for May and June, roughly Computex time, and Mobile Review’s Eldar Murtazin believes tens of 7- and 10-inch tablets based on Nvidia’s reference design could show up.
Nvidia already has extensive reference design experience and plenty of partners in the graphics market, so such an approach would be nothing new for the company. However, last year Nvidia also offered Kai, a reference tablet design based on the Tegra 3 SoC. It did not find many takers. Back at CES, Nvidia unveiled Project Shield, a Tegra 4 gaming console built under its own brand, but we haven’t seen any Tegra 4 design wins yet. The chip is apparently a couple of months behind schedule, due to some technical issues which necessitated a re-spin.
We should see more Tegra 4 gear at the Mobile World Congress and Nvidia is also expected to launch a cheaper, A9-based quad-core SoC in the latter half of the year. The reference design approach could help Nvidia gain quite a bit more design wins this time around, provided it doesn’t flop like Kai.