Mobile World Congress 2013

It’s that time of the year again, only a couple of weeks to go until the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona kicks off. I’ll be meeting many of my friends and old colleagues there, it will be great to catch up with everyone.

Some of the things I’m looking forward to:

  • Last year Nokia introduced their 41Mpixel camera phone. What’s new in camera land this year?
  • Huawei about doubled their presence each year, what did they do this time?
  • The Dutch Mobile Networking Event – the Dutch party to be at, run by Caroline Spek
  • What’s new in accessories? Will we see new wrist accessories? What’s next, a bluetooth ring?
  • How many new phones will be waterproof like Sony’s?
  • What’s up with the latest displays? Can we bend them? Will we go higher than full HD for mobile? Anything new that lowers the power consumption or increases the quality?
  • Is anyone able to challenge ARM? They’re pretty much a monopolist in mobile.
  • Will Imagination Tech position their recently acquired MIPS products for mobile?
  • How is mobile app development evolving?

Looking forward to see you there. Please don’t hesitate to contact me in case you’d like to meet.



Thin pixel machinery

In a recent post I briefly wrote about Sony’s new OLED display. One of the main hindrances of market adoption of this technology is cost. But now DuPont and Dainippon have announced they’re working together to develop equipment specifically to manufacture OLED displays. The plan is to make machines that basically print the display, using techniques similar to ink jet printers. The ultimate goal is for the OLED displays to achieve LCD price points. My prediction is that within 10 years OLED will have displaced LCD.

Shiny pixel fab being built

A little while ago I reported about the new IMOD display technology from Qualcomm, which should yield high quality displays that consume very low power. I saw the displays in action at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, but was unimpressed. The displays shown there were small, and perhaps similar to the LCDs that displayed the time on my watch about 30 years ago. Very few graphics and no moving pictures were shown. Still, LCDs have come a long way since the seventies, so perhaps the new IMOD displays will have a bright (no pun intended) future also.

What’s the next step? High volume, low cost production facilities. Yesterday Qualcomm and Foxlink announced just that. They will jointly build a new dedicated IMOD fab in — where else — Taiwan. The fab is expected to be operational in 2009. There’s no mention of how many units the fab can produce.

Can Qualcomm, the CDMA wireless communications company, be successful at entering such a new market? Will IMOD take off?

Thin pixels

Sony Mobile Display showed a 0.2mm-thick 3.5inch OLED display the other day in Tokyo. The resolution is 320×220, and since it is OLED I expect the picture quality to be quite striking. In contrast to LCD, OLED doesn’t need a backlight, which means it looks like color-printed paper and is very readable in sunlight.

Pixels better than real life?

According to this survey by Motorola, Americans would rather watch the Superbowl on an HDTV than in person. “The survey results really speak to the popularity of high-definition programming,” said Doug Means from Motorola.

That’s a lame study and a lame statement. The results of the survey don’t say anything about the quality of HD video and how close it gets to being there. Yes, quite a few people would rather sit in their homes than take a plane and sit on a plastic seat for hours watching the game. Yes, a big screen TV presents a much better picture than an old Philco Predicta. But no, nothing compares to being there. And I can say that without having ever been to a superbowl game.

Pixel resolution

The other day I ran across this very useful resolution chart at Wikipedia:

While not all resolutions I come across are listed (where are QCIF, 176×144, and CIF, 352×288, for instance) and the PAL resolution seems incorrect (they quote 768×576) this is still quite a nice diagram.

Wooden pixels

After my posts about sluggy pixels and shiny pixels, I think it’s only fair to mention the wooden pixels developed in 1999 too. Frame rates are quite acceptable, but there’s no color. They even made a wooden mirror out of them. Here’s a video on YouTube.

Display pixels versus capture pixels

One of the artificial questions I’ve been pondering a bit is what we will see more of: pixels that capture light (cameras) or pixels that make up displays? For several years my prediction was that soon we’d see more cameras than displays in the world. The reasoning was that displays are relatively large and made to be seen by a human. Cameras are tiny though and have many uses. Cameras don’t need humans to look at the images captured, they can simply be stored, or analyzed by an algorithm running on a piece of silicon. Since there’s only a little over 6 billion of us to view the screens, soon we’d have more cameras than displays.

Some cell-phones include two cameras, one for video conferencing and one for taking snapshots. These only have one display, which confirmed that I was right. Soon we’ll have more cameras than displays.

Still, the other day I saw a very small digital photo frame which cost only 15 euro and was meant to be worn on a key chain. It could hold 30 photos or so and contained a tiny battery. This caused me to think that the cross over point of having more cameras world-wide than displays is quite far away. We’ll soon have displays on our credit cards, on the outside of our laptops and perhaps even on our clothes.

Do you think we will ever have more cameras than displays?

Post-processing pixel companies going away?

Recently, two chip makers that focused on post-processing were acquired by bigger companies. Sigma Designs acquires Gennum’s image processing business, and ST acquires Genesis Microchip. The acquiring companies provide single-chip video processing solutions which include such post-processing functionality, but until now their post-processing wasn’t as good as what the smaller focused companies could deliver. The market demands ever increasing picture quality at ever reducing price points, which these acquiring companies are looking to achieve with their acquisitions.

Discontinued pixels

In March of 1993 Jim Blinn, perhaps the ultimate pixel guru, wrote an article called “NTSC: Nice Technology, Super Color”. It’s a play on what people often say NTSC means: Never The Same Color. The last few sentences of the article read this: “Current plans call for the FCC to adopt a new high-definition television standard some time this year. The FCC will then strongly encourage all broadcasters to switch over to the new standard as soon as possible. By the year 2007, the FCC wants this conversion to HDTV to be complete. Broadcasters will no longer be allowed to use NTSC. Boo hoo.”. Well, HD is happening, but NTSC is still alive and will be for quite some time to come.

What’s your guess: when will Standard Definition truly die?

Shiny pixels at Qualcomm

CRT, LCD, TFT, OLED, EPD and DLP are just some of the many acronyms used for the techniques behind displays. There’s an article in the November 2007 issue of Scientific American that presents a new acronym: IMOD. The IMOD displays are based on many small interferometric modulators, which bounce back light at different intensities. They don’t need a backlight, which means power consumption is much lower, ever so important for portable applications. The viewing experience is also greatly enhanced I am sure. The electronic paper displays that I’ve seen don’t use a back-light either and they’re great. They read like paper. The e-ink pixels change intensities too slowly to show video though, while the IMOD technology is very fast. The whole technology reminds me of the, also MEMS-based, DLP from Texas Instruments. Within a few years, that technology quickly became prevalent in projectors, beating out LCD.

With better displays, video coding artefacts will only become more apparent. Is your video subsystem ready to capture and play the highest quality video?

Sluggy pixels

My brother is an artist. One of his friends made this low-resolution and very-low-frame-rate imaging device. It’s called the PingPongPixel and displays one image every 2.5 hours. That’s about 0.0001 frame per second. Hardly practical, but still pretty nifty. Each pixel is represented by a ping-pong ball, which come in 6 shades of gray.

Anybody know of a display device with an even lower refresh rate?