in Bytesize

Bytesize 0x15 (2015).

A recap of the exciting technology news that made me click n’ read this week.

  1. Meizu MX4 Ubuntu Edition hits the shelves for ¥1,799, – I’m going to put this at the top because I really like Ubuntu. Deal with it. We’re always going to hear cries of “But there simply isn’t any room for more operating systems in mobile!” In the wise words of Taylor Swift, haters gonna hate, hate, hate. At the end of the day, Ubuntu is a very scalable operating system that is deployed across multiple platforms and architectures so it deserves attention; look to the Snappy Ubuntu Core for another example of solid OS craftsmanship.  
  2. Qualcomm announces two new flagship Wi-Fi chips for the Internet of Things by Mark Sullivan, VentureBeat – After Samsung entered the IoT fray by introducing the ARTIK family, Qualcomm showcased two new designs aimed at the connectivity market: a MIPS-based chip (QCA4531) and a Tensilica-flavored SoC (QCA401x). The company continues to run OpenWRT on MIPS-based Atheros SoCs; this flavour of Linux is a fan favorite among the hacker crowd. In case you were wondering about numbers, Qualcomm products were used to connect 120 million home devices last year; for example, the Ubiquiti Networks mFi family is based on a previous-generation Atheros chipset.
  3. Silicon Chips That See Are Going to Make Your Smartphone Brilliant by Tom Simonite, MIT Technology Review – Multiple silicon vendors are investing in vision processors mostly based on relatively new use cases from mobile OEMs: Alibaba showed a prototype of face recognition-based payments during CeBIT while NTT Docomo and Fujitsu will begin selling the Arrows NX F-04G, one of the first phones with iris scanning biometrics. I recently had the pleasure of meeting Baidu’s Ren Wu, a distinguished scientist who spoke at the 2015 Embedded Vision Summit. One interesting fact he mentioned during our talk is how his company implements deep learning algorithms for image and video indexing. By now, most of you have been bombarded by the desktop GPU marketing machine telling you that deep learning is a data center workload; however, many fail to mention that some deep learning-related processing will be done on mobile chips first (Baidu are experimenting with MediaTek SoCs) way before the cloud infrastructure gets involved. All I can say is rumors of dumb cloud-powered devices have been greatly exaggerated.
  4. Mobileye Rises on Q1 Beat; Street Lauds New Business by Tiernan Ray, Barron’s – I know you have a serious case of self-driving car fatigue developing quickly but Mobileye really is a fascinating company and a pioneer in ADAS solutions. The freshly baked EyeQ4 chip is an a league of its own and bankers are starting to realize the company’s potential. My view is that semi-autonomous driving programs will initially be deployed for more business-oriented purposes such as long-distance driving (i.e. haulage on expressways) or public transportation. Gradually, we will see adoption in the consumer space, starting at the high-end. However, industry sources tell me that is not going to happen until 2025-2030.
  5. Actions Semiconductor Launches High Performance 64-bit S900 and ActDuino S900 [press release] – I wish the mainstream press would cover the Chinese silicon market in greater detail. Actions Semi has recenly joined a new initiative called 96Boards which aims to build an ecosystem of 32- and 64-bit development platforms. The really interesting approach here is that all these boards will have standardized high- and low-speed interfaces positioned in specific locations on the PCB. This should theoretically help hackers swap different boards around, depending on requirements and use cases. We’ve already seen three consumer-focused boards being released and I am told that an enterprise product is in the works.
  6. Xiaomi Picks Leadcore to Go Vertical, by Junko Yoshida, EE Times – This is the surprise announcement that everyone saw coming. Even though the title is not 100% accurate (since Leadcore will provide SoCs to other vendors), Xiaomi can now direcly tune Leadcore mobile designs specifically for their products. Given that the Chinese company seems keen to dabble outside their usual area of influence, it is worth monitoring their future (changes in) supply chain more closely.
  7. Huawei stakes claim in ‘Internet of Things’ market with new operating system by Morris Mac Matzen, Reuters – When a new market appears, the industry will rush to produce many options; then those options get fewer and fewer as the market matures. IoT is a perfect example of everyone trying to solve very complex challenges in different ways. Although I believe fragmentation eventually leads to healthy competition, IoT is a funny one because it requires open standards. Ultimately, the way forward is to build configurable software-agnostic platforms that put consumer security on par with performance, power and cost. I also think it’s interesting to observe how mobile OEMs try to diversify their core business model beyond selling phones (e.g. Samsung launching ARTIK, HTC looking to desktop VR, Meizu pushing air purifiers) in the context of a slowdown of sales in China.
  8. Silicon Valley Takes a Trip to the Farm Belt by Nanette Byrnes, MIT Technology Review – IoT is like race and/or gender equality in the Western world: they all like to talk about it, but nobody actually does anything to solve it globally. However, there are important applications where IoT will truly improve our lives beyond connecting lightbulbs to Wi-Fi; farming is one of them. Given how much poison we’re throwing into the earth and air, improving the efficiency of crop and animal farming is definitely something I can stand for.