Nvidia’s Mobile Play: How Did I Miss This?

Nvidia has plans for a mobile chipset that will change the look and functionality of smartphones when it hits in mid-to-late 2009. While many of the big chip vendors are placing bets on the concept of a mobile Internet device that’s larger than a smartphone, but smaller than a laptop, Nvidia’s APX 2500 chips could enable devices that are so sexy, they might render the need for an MID obsolete.

However, I’m told the company will announce an expansion of the APX chips into MIDs soon, so I could be wrong on that last point. Nvidia launched the chips that will make a smartphone function like a PC (or an iPhone) at the Mobile World Congress in February, and I can’t believe I missed it.

This is Nvidia’s first move into making the “brains” of a mobile device, and it’s using its graphics expertise to turn the devices containing the chips into portable media players that can play 10 hours of HD video (on an external screen) and 100 hours of MP3s on a single charge. All while the 750 MHz processor consumes less than a watt of power.

In a demo at Nvidia headquarters two weeks ago, I saw a device slightly larger than an iPhone power an HD rendering of a Pixar short called “For the Birds” on a big-screen TV. It was connected via an HDMI cable and it looked good at 720p. I get that some people don’t mind watching movies or TV on their cell phone or iPod screens, but if I’m able to download that content and plug it into a TV, that’s an entirely new ballgame for travel and sharing. I want that device.

The demo I saw was powered by Nvidia’s chipset running on Windows Mobile, creating a chip/OS combo that mimics some of the visual pizazz of the iPhone, but on a more business-friendly operating system. Sure, as far as mobile operating systems go, Windows Mobile isn’t exactly tearing it up, but the integration of business and pleasure could make the current angst of choosing between a BlackBerry or an iPhone a thing of the past.

The chipset will first appear at the end of this year in personal navigation devices and personal media players, with a smartphone due out in the middle of 2009. Unfortunately, the APX 2500 contains an HSDPA RF chip, so it won’t be deployed on my network, but TMobile subscribers should keep their eyes open. Like the iPhone, the APX is modem agnostic, which means it’s not tied to any particular cellular network. There’s plenty of room for Nvidia to stumble, since it doesn’t have the experience designing for the mobile space, but I’m hoping it can succeed right about the time my current mobile contract is up.