Nalini Muppala

Analysis, observations, perspectives on mobile space

Smartphone Ecosystem (Part 6): Cheaper Smartphones

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There has been a lot of talk about cheaper smartphones coming our way. A slew of recent product announcements and promises from chip vendors seem to support this claim. It must be noted that the price in question is the real price of the device, not a carrier-subsidized (and cost recouped over service contracts normally running one to two years) price. Much of the world cannot afford a $100 monthly bill, which is close to what an average iPhone user pays AT&T. If smartphones are to see a huge uptake, the price has to come down.

Here is a rundown of what the chip makers have to say about their latest offering:

Broadcom unveiled the BCM21553 as a “3G HSPA chipset solution to enable high-speed, low-cost smartphone devices.”

Infineon XMM 6181 (X-GOLD 618 baseband, SMARTi UE RF transceiver) is a new “entry-level smartphone platform” based on Android and aimed at “addressing the high-volume consumer segment.”

Marvell qualifies its Pantheon 910 and 920 as “mass market smartphone communication platforms” to enable “$99 smartphones.” This platform is not to be mistaken as a wimpy alternative; it can drive 720p video and features, among others, an 800 MHz dedicated application processor.

MediaTek has released a hardware package that plays well with Windows Mobile. This enables low-cost manufacturers in China to put out cheaper smartphones to serve the mass market in emerging economies. This could ensure that Windows Mobile will have a long tail, in spite of the upcoming Phone 7. MediaTek is set to release a similar package that combines its smartphone platform and Android OS.

ST-Ericsson says its U6715 would bring down smartphones cost to the €100 ($135) level. It comes with a claim: “a cost-optimized chipset and software to enable smartphone features for all.”

The past few years have witnessed creation of platforms over which others can build and innovate. Cases in point: Facebook, Apple’s App store. After various companies have found tremendous success in building a platform and creating an ecosystem that builds on their platform, handset silicon vendors are following suit. The Infineon XMM6181, ST-Ericsson U8500 U6715, TI OMAP, Qualcomm Snapdragon and MSM, and Marvell Pantheon and ARMADA platforms should be looked at in a similar vein. The intent is to create an ecosystem in which several handset makers would innovate and build around these platforms. Such platforms still allow for several design choices and thus provide necessary differentiation.

As we await cheap smartphones, we should remember that cheap smartphones cannot mean cost recouped from data plans.

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Written by Nalini Kumar Muppala

April 14, 2010 at 9:00 pm

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