Mobile World Congress (MWC 2012) in Barcelona delivers not only the latest in mobile technology, but a carnival-like atmosphere—flashy announcements, colorful displays and elaborate fanfare. The show’s gaudiness is matched only by the Catalan capital itself. But if you remove all the hoopla, the vast majority of attendees have a common goal. Just about everyone is looking for ways to lure the developer, because it’s all about the apps!
When people talk about the mysterious concept called “the ecosystem,” it is the developer community that is being addressed. Whether it’s apps, middleware, connectivity, or games – the name of the game is content. After all, what good is a device if there’s nothing to do with it?
So how do you get engineers to develop apps for your platform? Simple, if you build the hardware, they will come!
Exactly one year ago, at MWC 2011, MIPS had just shown the first MIPS-Based mobile devices and as such, we were relatively unknown to developers. I had to work overtime to arrange meetings and then ports of apps to the MIPS architecture. This year the tides had turned. I arrived at MWC with the world’s first Android 4.0 tablet, at a sub-$100 price point. We had built a competitive mobile device running the latest version of Android, received tons of press, and sure enough the developers came! More than 50 percent of my meetings this year were with developers, many of whom approached us, wanting to bring their content to MIPS-Based devices!
Nobody wants to be the first to join a club, but everyone wants in once it becomes popular, and this was the story for MIPS at MWC 2012.
In the months leading up to MWC, our ecosystem grew in spades. We announced partnerships with Gameloft (the leader in mobile gaming), Opera (the leader in optimized browser and HTML5 technologies bringing the latest Opera Mobile 12 to MIPS), Xamarin (a leader in promoting cross platform frameworks for developers bringing full Mono support for MIPS, Android and Linux), SAI Technology (promoting LTE middleware accelerated by MIPS unique multi-threaded solutions), Intrinsic ID (promoting a novel security architecture for protecting content delivery to MIPS-Based end-devices), and Altair Semiconductor (a leader in LTE solutions based on MIPS – working with our customer Ingenic to create low-cost LTE Android tablets). We also announced the world’s first Android 4.0 “Ice Cream Sandwich” tablet in December 2011, as well as an Android 4.0 tablet for the Indonesian market.
We are very proud of our achievement being first to market with an Android 4.0 tablet. We worked shoulder-to-shoulder with Ingenic Semiconductor and launched Android 4.0 on MIPS within three weeks of it going open source. Even Andy Rubin (Senior VP for Android at Google) lauded the achievement publicly – citing a true testament of the openness of Android (and MIPS is at the cornerstone of proving it!) Like most new hardware devices, this MIPS-Based tablet was something of a leap of faith. We did not have advance commitments from ecosystem partners to develop apps, rather faith that if we built the device, the apps would follow. Our prediction came true.
The reason why Intel has yet to achieve widespread developer attention in the mobile space thus far is they have not delivered hardware for mobile. We expect to this to change in the coming months of course – and welcome it to enrich the overall ecosystem even further.
Of course, hardware must be of a certain quality to attract developers. There are a lot of Shanzai brands and devices out there – what makes the MIPS-Based Android 4.0 tablets different? Well for starters, they are based on the legendary, efficient MIPS architecture, which translates into good performance and very strong battery life. According to John Oram of Bright Side of News, who ran some benchmarks and tested the battery life , “Our estimation is the MIPS-Ingenic Ainol NOVO Basic 7 tablet is superior to the ARM A8 powered platforms. It is equal or superior to the ARM A9, single-core platforms.”
Secondly, there is the not-so-small matter of price/performance. Performance is undoubtedly important, but what drives adoption at the end of the day is affordability. Of course, devices must be fast, have apps and connectivity, but they absolutely must be attainable by the mass population. A US$600 tablet completely misses the mark in this regard. Let’s talk some proof points:
1. Mid last year, Hewlett Packard did a fire sale on a Snapdragon powered WebOS tablet for $99 that sold out within hours. WebOS did not have an ecosystem that could rival iOS or Android. Yet it sold millions within a matter of days.
2. In November, Amazon announced the Kindle Fire – a $200 device that was “good enough” for reading books, email, web browsing, game play etc. It too has sold millions.
3. In December, MIPS (along with its partners – Ingenic and Ainol) announced the world’s first Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich) tablet – a sub $100 device – that delivered one-half the performance of the iPad at one-fifth the cost. According to Ainol, hundreds of thousands of units were sold in the first month alone.
4. In February, Speedup/MLW Telecom of Indonesia (along with Ingenic and MIPS) announced a fixed-wireless Android 4.0 tablet with prepaid connectivity for a promotional price of $33. It sold out within days.
With developers now courting MIPS as much as we are courting them, MIPS is perfectly positioned to further grow our ecosystem, whereby developers bring their content to MIPS-Based platforms. A steamroll effect can then take place. With more content, larger OEMs become interested. And as more MIPS-Based devices emerge, developers have more platforms to monetize their content. MIPS is in a very exciting place and we expect important new developments in the coming months. Stay tuned!