TI Taps OMAP Processor To Power Google Phone - InformationWeek

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2/11/2008
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Alexander Wolfe
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TI Taps OMAP Processor To Power Google Phone

I hate to crow, but you read it here first. In my speculative article "Inside The GPhone: What To Expect From Google's Android Alliance" published last November, I predicted that Texas Instruments' wonderfully capable OMAP would emerge as a leading processor for Google phones of all stripes. Turns out TI is poised to demonstrate j

I hate to crow, but you read it here first. In my speculative article "Inside The GPhone: What To Expect From Google's Android Alliance" published last November, I predicted that Texas Instruments' wonderfully capable OMAP would emerge as a leading processor for Google phones of all stripes. Turns out TI is poised to demonstrate just such a prototype on Monday.Nevertheless, I think it's worth emphasizing the OMAP angle because it is indeed a wonderfully capable cell phone chip, and not many people outside of the EE or communications communities known about it.

Here's what I wrote about OMAP in the "Inside The GPhone" piece:

The question of how GPhones will implement multimedia is fascinating, especially the angle of how tightly video and audio will be wound into the platform. Given the iPhone's leadership in this area -- let's face it, Apple's offering is essentially an iPod with a phone attached -- one might reasonably expect the Android partners to pull out all the multimedia stops.

This is where the involvement of Texas Instruments is so intriguing, all the more so because it's difficult to discern exactly what the chip legend is going to be bringing to the GPhone party. Google itself is mostly mum on the topic. The link from the Open Handset Alliance's Web site to TI takes one to a generic page listing cell phone industry resources.

Sure, TI makes basic cell phone RF processors -- the chips which implement the radio features that enable mobile handsets to communicate with service providers like T-Mobile, and thus connect users' calls. So it's possible that TI is enlisted to provide those chips. However, the Open Handset Alliance also includes RF chip maker Marvell.

This leads us to what's perhaps a stretch but also potentially a smarter assessment of the value-add TI offers to Android. Namely, TI is the force behind OMAP, a proprietary multimedia platform, architecture, and processor family. OMAP is arguably the hottest way to turn a next-generation phone into a killer 3G multimedia platform.

From TI's perspective -- the "sell" angle -- OMAP was way ahead of its time and may have taken longer than hoped to catch on. It was launched in the mid-1990s under the moniker "Open multimedia application platform." (Today it's just called OMAP.) It got its first big boost in 1999, when Nokia signed up to adopt the architecture. Now, GPhone deployment would make OMAP ubiquitous beyond TI's wildest dreams.

So just what does OMAP offer? The short answer is, pretty much everything a handset maker needs to field a full range of models from bargain-basement GPhones to feature-stuffed, single-chip cell phones on steroids.

For example, even a basic OMAP331 processor packs into the device an ARM926, which serves as the brains of the cell phone. But the OMAP331 also has an onboard graphics accelerator and support for a multimedia memory stick. To complete the phone's feature set, you have to add a few other external chips, such as an audio amplifier, Bluetooth device, and GPS processor (that's where SiRF, mentioned above, comes in). The total package would be a fairly complete, but cost-constrained, phone.

Move up to the OMAPV1035 and you've got yourself a gold-plated "world phone." The 1035, which supports GSM, GPRS, and EDGE, is billed by TI as "the first fully-integrated digital baseband, RF, and applications processor." Along with the phone stuff, it handles audio and video playback, allowing record and streaming at 30 frames per second.

It's also got a built-in digital camera of up to 3 Mpixels with shot-to-shot delay of less than a second, and onboard 2-D and 3-D gaming graphics.

Anyway, so that's the scoop on OMAP. Click the picture below to see a block diagram of the chip.



(click image for larger view)


Texas Instruments' OMAP packs a cellphone onto one chip.

view the Inside GPhone image gallery

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