Smartphone hardware has been progressing fast, but this year, we are starting to see more new confusing things regarding hardware specifications. It is turning into what the PC market has been like for years, where most people have stopped caring about the specifications because there is such an overwhelming amount of information out there. Instead of hard specifications such as clockspeeds and bandwidth, people care most about what’s on the surface and branding.
For PCs, you want an Intel i5 or i7. Some people might know how many cores a processor might have, and rarely someone might know the clockspeed. You won’t find many people who know the actual processor names. For phones, people only know devices on a model name basis. For the majority, these hard specifications no longer make an impact on how they use their computing devices on a daily basis, and they stopped committing their minds processing the excess of information. The first thing people talk about is how big the screen is, how good the things, and maybe the storage. After that, they might count the number of cores it has or how many megapixels the camera gives them. This is also how manufactures get away with getting rid of the user replaceable battery, and concealing the whole thing in tape so it can never be repaired.
In 2013, the smartphone is really converging into the same pattern, where users see less and less benefit with getting the best hardware on the block. Qualcomm has already done their homework and is working to push Snapdragon as a branded platform, trying to emulate Intel’s success at marketing over the years. Compared to the likes of Nvidia and Samsung, Qualcomm stands out because they have started to market the Snapdragon brand as a complete platform, not just as a single application processor, and are one of the few manufacturers capable of doing so. At the end of the day, this mess isn’t necessarily good news for end-users, because more marketing doesn’t really equate to better products at all, and maintaining the proper balance here is a fine line to tread.
Here is a short list of some hardware specifications for computer geeks to know about that will get buried this year:
- ARM Cortex-A15/Cortex-A7 big.LITTLE 4×4: being called octacore everywhere when it isn’t designed to run with more than 4 at any given time
- ARM Cortex-A7 quadcore: this isn’t expected to perform that much better than a pair of old Cortex-A9s, but can have good power efficiency
- ARM Cortex-A9 r4p1: a new revision that should bring about similar performance to what Qualcomm is squeezing out of Krait, coming the second half 2013
- Intel Atom: a single core does as well as several ARM-based ones, but Intel isn’t keen on selling cheap chips
- Fabrication process: hopefully your next application processor was fabricated at either 28 or 32 nm, because everything else is ancient by now
- LPDDR3 vs LPDDR2: LPDDR3 bringing significant power savings and graphical performance improvements with the increased memory bandwidth, but Samsung might be the only
- one using it since they make these
- Baseband envelope tracking: expected to bring significant power savings to celluar radio
- Inflated screen resolutions: resulting in poor gaming performance, despite all the ravings about how much PPI you can squeeze out of a screen
- Shrinking internal storage: some manufacturers pushing a device with 16GB of internal storage all the way down to just 60% at 9GB (Samsung Galaxy S4)
- GPU performance: this is a mess I have not spent a lot of time looking at, but a lot of things can go wrong here with graphically intensive applications
- RAM: this has always been an issue ever since the G1, since manufacturers count memory allocated for crucial components such asthe GPU and radio chipset and unavailable to the operating system in this count. With larger screens that do more graphically intensive work, you need more RAM for the GPU. This so far hasn’t been a big issue though since Android is pretty efficient at managing lack of memory.
- Storage technologies: we never see any information regarding to this, but it matters. Look for those IO benchmarks when considering your next purchase.
- Chipworks – Inside the HTC One: http://www.chipworks.com/blog/recentteardowns/2013/03/28/inside-the-htc-one/
- Anandtech – NVIDIA Tegra 4 Deep Dive, The Cortex A9 r4p1: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6787/nvidia-tegra-4-architecture-deep-dive-plus-tegra-4i-phoenix-hands-on/3
- Anandtech – Qualcomm’s Next-Gen Krait400 & 300: http://www.anandtech.com/show/6568/qualcomm-krait-400-krait-300-snapdragon-800
- Samsung – Samsung Announces Production of Industry’s First 2GB LPDDR3 Mobile Memory, Using 30nm-class Technology: http://www.samsung.com/global/business/semiconductor/news-events/press-releases/detail?newsId=12061
- Anandtech – ARM Cortex A7: http://www.anandtech.com/show/4991/arms-cortex-a7-bringing-cheaper-dualcore-more-power-efficient-highend-devices
- ARM big.LITTLE: http://www.arm.com/products/processors/technologies/biglittleprocessing.php