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MediaTek’s Moynihan believes entry-level smartphones will give way to ‘super-mid’ segment

Dr  Finbarr MoynihanWith the arrival of octa-core processors now, it seems like the arms race that mobile companies have been engaging in lately is finally coming to an end, but actually, there are still some major changes to come, according to Finbarr Moynihan, who heads International Sales and Marketing for the Taiwanese chip-maker, MediaTek.

The company has built a reputation in India of powering low-cost handsets from companies likeMicromaxIntex and Karbonn, but Moynihan, who is presently in India for the launch of octa-corehandsets by MediaTek’s partners in the Indian ecosystem, told NDTV Gadgets that he predicts a move from entry-level to what he calls the “super-mid” segment of devices.

In a short interview, Moynihan talked about the development of new processors, how the more developed and developing markets are starting to grow more similar, and discussed two major areas of transition for MediaTek – LTE chips and 64-bit chips. Edited excerpts of the conversation follow:

NDTV Gadgets: What changes have you seen in the market here? When you’re looking back over your last year, how have things moved?
Finbarr Moynihan: 
I think that the market has definitely changed, and we’re going to see something we define as the “super-mid” segment. What you’re seeing is that the spending power on the low end is growing. But at the same time, in countries like the US, or Europe, subsidies are also starting to pinch the operators.
So here, you’re seeing people who’re willing to spend a bit more for the extra power and the extra features, and at the same time, in the more developed markets, operators who want to cut down on the subsidies they are paying are also going to push for more value driven devices.

Our role, at MediaTek, is providing a full range of options, from the basic dual-core phones at the lower end, up to our octa- and hexa-core phones at the upper end. There’s a certain minimum that people should come to expect from a smartphone, and we’re going to deliver on that count.

You have octa-core and now hexa-core chips. You say yours is a “true” octa-core because each core is full powered, but how does this impact customers?

There are a lot of factors at work, and we’ve come up with a solution that gives users the most power, without compromising on battery life. Since there are eight cores that are equally fast, your software can take advantage of this, and you can use more or less cores, depending on what you’re doing. And it’s not just that we add more cores, we’ve also been steadily improving our graphics chips, and the combination, along with the right software, results in a much better experience for users.

High end gaming is the most obvious example of what we’re talking about – games need a lot more power than your day to day use, so this is very helpful. But aside from that, there are a lot of new video standards that are being announced now, for video compression. This will make it easier to stream video on your mobile connection, but you require the hardware to handle these. With Chrome becoming more and more popular on Android, that’s good too, because it’s a multithreaded software, and Chrome users will have a better browsing experience.

We also think it will be useful for some unusual uses, such as multiwindows, and shifting your display to a big screen, either wired or wirelessly, to use your phone to power the desktop experience.

But as you mentioned with Chrome, the software needs to take advantage of the hardware, otherwise it won’t make a difference…

That’s correct, but today, dual-core is already the volume segment. But the end of this year, we’re going to see quad-core phones become the standard, and along the way, developers are also making the best use of the hardware, so it’s not an issue.

You work closely with local partners like Micromax and Karbonn – what is the feedback they bring to you? Do they tell you that they have the scope for higher-end devices?

Absolutely, I think that the local brands have been doing a great job of building demand. Some brands have done better than others, but as a whole, you’re seeing Indian brands taking up a lot of the marketshare, moving to smartphones, and moving to higher price points.

It’s very encouraging for us to see that our partners have been able to grow both in terms of volumes, and also in terms of the average sales price that they are able to charge. It shows that the market is maturing and the people want to get better devices.

I think that earlier, you were seeing a lot of great products come out of the US and Europe, and in 2012-2013 we saw a big spurt from China. I think that this year, we’re going to see India make good progress too.

But in terms of features, or anything specific, what do your Indian partners look for?

I think that the display is very important here; our partners are stress on large, vibrant displays. There’s a lot of interest in multimedia features, maybe it’s because your film industry is so culturally important here? Industrial design, again, not something we have a role in, but our partners spend a lot of time working on design. It’s a big differentiator for them. And also the camera, people want good cameras. Our partners haven’t really talked so much about the battery but I mean that’s just my perception as an outsider.

When you’re looking at 2014-2015, what are you looking at?

There are a couple of major transitions that we talked about at MWC as well. For one thing, in 2013, we completed our 3G portfolio. Now, we’re focusing majorly on LTE. This should start shipping by Q2 and you’re going to see SoCs from the high end to the mainstream for LTE in the second half of this year. You’ll see more of this in the US and Europe markets, of course, but we’re seeing, with companies like Reliance, that you’re going to see more 4G here in India as well.

That also means that we have to be very careful about the battery – it is another component on the chip which drains the battery life. So we have to be very efficient with our cores – we want them to switch on quickly when you need a power boost, but we also want them to switch off quickly once the work is done.

The other big change that’s taking up a lot of our time is the move to 64-bit architectures. It’s a very major shift, and one that will happen in stages.

Can you explain the importance, and the ways in which this shift will affect customers?

It’s a multistep process – there’s no ta-dah moment where it immediately affects customers. The first step will be the processors, which will come by summer this year. The chips will launch on KitKat, which means that the experience won’t change in a big way.

But the new chips will be faster and will improve the user experience anyway. The next version of Android will be 64-bit, and that’s going to require more RAM as a minimum requirement as well. So this will also lead to improved performance, and this will be followed by a lot of applications that can make good use of the new tools available, such as the unified computing experience, because you’re going to have a lot more power available.

This won’t happen right away, like I said, there won’t be any ta-dah moment. It may take a few years, but we’re going to make sure that there’s a whole range of options every step of the way.


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