Nvidia Looks to Define a 'Zero Billion' Market

The MID market is undefined, but there is potential and a big rival-Intel.

SANTA CLARA, Calif.-When Michael Rayfield looks at the potential for so-called MIDs or mobile Internet devices, what he sees now is a "zero billion dollar market."

Rayfield, the general manager of Nvidia's Mobile Business division, is being flip, but he makes a point. Right now, for all the talk of MIDs at the 2008 Computex conference in Taiwan in early June, the market is ill-defined. However, there is potential and Nvidia along with big-time rival Intel are each looking to be the first to define the market.

At Computex, Nvidia launched a new platform called Tegra, which is built around an ARM 11 CPU, a low-watt GeForce GPU (graphics processing unit), an image processor and a high-definition video processor. Earlier this year, Intel unveiled its Atom processor-formally called Silverthorne-which is an x86 processor based on Intel Architecture along with a new chip set.

The two companies are now in a race to get their products into the hands of vendors to produce the first of these MIDs by the second half of 2008, although Rayfield believes that the real test will come in the later half of 2009 when Intel and Nvidia revamp their offerings.

For now, Nvidia is looking at devices that cost between $199 and $250, connect to the Internet through Wi-Fi, WiMax or 3G, and have 4- to 12-inch displays. While many of these devices will find their way into the consumer market, Rayfield believes that at the $200 price range, these MIDs could find their way into the enterprise for applications ranging from e-mail to VOIP (voice over IP).

In an interview at Nvidia's headquarters here, Rayfield-not surprisingly-said he believes that the ARM-based Tegra platform will offer the type of battery life needed for MIDs to be successful in the market while supporting video, games and "light" productivity applications such as e-mail and spreadsheets.

"If the device only works for two hours, it will remain a zero billion market because nobody wants to plug it back into the wall after two hours," said Rayfield.

This type of platform with the ARM processor also means that Nvidia can move between the MID and the smart phone markets-the company offered a its APX2500 application processor for smart phones earlier this year-and that type of crossover could lead to an array of interesting products that combine the best elements of both.

"It's a mart that could be worth billions and billions, and there could also be billions of devices out there if it's done right," said Rayfield. "If the smart phone starts to merge with the navigation device, which then starts to merge with these mobile devices, it becomes huge."

Some analysts agree with that assumption and many believe that it will take Intel some time to bring the thermal envelope of its Atom processors down for use in both MIDs as well as smart phones, such as the Apple iPhone.

However, some of the Intel processors do offer thermal envelopes of less than one watt, while the ARM processor allows Nvidia to offer its platform at less than one watt as well. Other industry watchers believe that application developers will have an easier time developing code on Intel's x86 base, which could support a full Microsoft Windows or Linux operating system.

For now, Tegra supports Windows CE and Mobile, and while Rayfield believes it could support Linux in the future, he said he thinks most consumers will want a Windows-based device. As for third-party applications, Rayfield said developers can build on top of Windows or use OpenKODE, a set of open APIs for handheld devices, to develop the software.