Semiconductor research firm Chipworks has disassembled Microsoft's Kin Two smartphone to find that the device is powered by an aging Tegra chip from Nvidia that could be outdated by the end of this year.
Nvidia's Tegra APX2600 chip, which is at the heart of the Kin Two, belongs to the first generation of Tegra processors introduced close to two years ago, which are due to be replaced by the next-generation Tegra 2 chips by the end of this year. Nvidia announced Tegra 2 chips earlier this year and said the first smartphones using them would start shipping in the fourth quarter.
Nvidia has said that the Tegra 2 chips could be up to four times faster than their predecessors and will be able to play 1080p high-definition video. The chip is also more power efficient than the original Tegra chips.
Microsoft announced the Kin One and Kin Two smartphones in April. The touch-screen phones are aimed at a younger audience that wants fast access to social-networking services. Nvidia said the Kin phones are the first Tegra-powered smartphones, and that the chips bring advanced graphics capabilities, such as 720p video playback capabilities, with the low-power consumption needed by mobile phones.
It is unlikely Microsoft would have scrapped Tegra from its plans in the aftermath of Tegra 2's announcement, analysts said. The Tegra APX2600 has strong multimedia features and is adequate to meet Kin's social networking requirements, analysts said. The chip already powers Microsoft's Zune HD portable media player.
The first-generation Tegra brings a great visual experience to the smartphone, said Bruce Chan, a spokesman with Nvidia. He declined to comment if the Tegra 2 chips will be implemented in the smartphones anytime soon.
Microsoft did not immediately respond to request for comment.
The Tegra chip combines an Arm-based processor, a GeForce graphics core and other components. Chipworks officials said the APX2600 offers the ability to shoot video at up to 720p resolution. That has helped reduce the number of chips that would otherwise be needed in smartphones to handle graphics and video.
Smartphone makers were initially cautious about Tegra, said Nathan Brookwood, principal analyst at Insight 64. It was Nvidia's first smartphone chip, and questions surrounded Nvidia's long-haul commitment to the market. Nvidia, which is best known for its graphics cards, is competing against companies like Qualcomm, Texas Instruments, Apple and Intel in the smartphone space.
"When Nvidia came out with the Tegra chip they didn't have the relationship with [companies]... that design and manufacture the smartphones," Brookwood said. It was a safer bet for smartphone makers to go with chips from TI or Samsung.
But device makers started gaining confidence in Nvidia when they came out Tegra 2. That's when companies starting seriously considering the chip for smartphones, Brookwood said.
Besides uncertainty surrounding Tegra, the design, implementation and regulatory approval cycle for smartphones can also take time, Brookwood said. By the time some smartphones end up reaching the market their chips are no longer cutting-edge.