Tuesday, 14 February 2012
MediaTek Aims for Bigger Chunk of the Smartphone Market
MediaTek is heading to this month's Mobile World Congress on a mission—to broaden its penetration of the smartphone market. The fabless Taiwanese semiconductor firm is best known for making chipsets for feature phones, selling 540 million last year alone, but MediaTek also sold 10 million smartphone chipsets in 2011 and aims to bump that number up to 50 million this year.
The way the company will get there is with its new MT6575 Android platform, according to Finbarr Moynihan, director of MediaTek's North America and Western Europe Business Development unit.
"We went a little bit further with this platform, building in native support for 3D panels, mobile display picture processing for DTV-grade quality, 4-in-1 connectivity, and more," Moynihan told PCMag during a visit to our San Francisco offices last week.
Some MT6575-based sample phones brought in by Moynihan and Yenchi Lee, a MediaTek product marketing manager, certainly handled well upon inspection. The collection of 4.3-inch reference designs, some running Google's Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich" (ICS) and some the older "Gingerbread" mobile operating system, navigated smoothly and boasted enviable graphics and video playback.
We couldn't run any connectivity tests or make a call with the phones, but two key hardware-optimized technologies MediaTek is touting with the MT6575—HD-quality photo rendering and 3D display enhancements—looked impressive in demos and a brief hands-on with a couple of units.
The MT6575 is a System-on-a-Chip (SoC) combining a single-core, 1GHz ARM Cortex A9 application processor with a graphics engine and a 3G/HSPA modem. MediaTek expects the first handsets built around its SoC to use Gingerbread but says its ODM partners will quickly transition to ICS in March.
Though MediaTek has mainly served China and other developing markets to date, Moynihan said the company believes it can start to penetrate North American and European markets with a mid-priced smartphone platform like the MT6575. The value proposition is pretty simple—this is an SoC that the company believes compares favorably in terms of specs and benchmarks to the ARM-based chipset inside Apple's iPhone 4.
An iPhone 4 on the Cheap?
MediaTek is banking on its ODM partners delivering smartphones that can approximate or better the performance of Apple's fourth-generation handset, which was released in June 2010. The selling point is that you'll be getting that iPhone 4-like device about 18 months on for as much as $50 less than iPhone 4s currently sell for (or even $100+ less for smaller, less loaded MT6575-based phones).
Moynihan said the chip maker is aiming for "two sweet spots" in the smartphone market with the new SoC.
"For phones that are slightly thinner, with better industrial design and a 4.3-inch display, we'd expect prices in the $150 to $180 range, topping out at about $200 range," he said. "Then there's a more price-focused bucket, where you're talking a 3.5-inch display, perhaps a lower resolution camera, less memory, maybe no HDMI output. That's the $100 or below range, from about $80 to $100, with a few at $120."
By comparison, MediaTek's MT6573 chipset is mainly used in devices priced at $70 or less.
The chip maker believes it has some advantages that will help it grow quickly in the lower to middle part of the smartphone market, if not become a chipset supplier for "hero phones" just yet.
As a maker of a platform that combines processing capabilities with connectivity, MediaTek feels its main competition is Qualcomm, Moynihan said. The company believes its new top-of-the-line SoC rates favorably against Qualcomm's similarly priced MSM7227A platform in terms of processing power, energy efficiency, and wireless connectivity, and beats the competition's chipset on video playback, graphics, and display technology.
Expect MediaTek to really push that last argument and to play up its track record in producing multimedia processors and display technologies. In addition to making handset products, the MediaTek is the world's leading maker of the chips that go into DVD and Blu-Ray players, and the No. 2 supplier of chipsets for digital TVs.