Home » consumer computing » Bloomberg (Businessweek) legitimizes Allwinner and Rockchip as challengers to Intel and Qualcomm via the tablet space, as well as Spreadtrum in the smartphone space

Bloomberg (Businessweek) legitimizes Allwinner and Rockchip as challengers to Intel and Qualcomm via the tablet space, as well as Spreadtrum in the smartphone space

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Although the title is just:

  1. Qualcomm, Intel Threatened as Allwinner Nabs Tablet Share [Bloomberg, March 17, 2014]
  2. Qualcomm, Intel Threatened as Allwinner Gains Tablet Share: Tech [BloombergBusinessweek, March 17, 2014]

Note that for me there is nothing new about those titles as I introduced a whole new blog to the “Allwinner phenomenon” as evidenced with a specially designed banner on the right here:

And the first post of mine, “Hello world! Here is the Allwinner SoC and the ecosystem built around it”, was created 16 months ago, on November 26, 2012. For very well founded reasons which were explained in quite a detail in that post. Please read them as you will learn much more about the Allwinner case than from the whole Bloomberg (Businessweek) articles. Your interest will be more satisfied with quite a number of additional posts in January 2014, October 2013, September 2013, June 2013, April 2013, March 2013, January 2013 and December 2012.

Allwinner’s success is explained now in the Bloomberg (Businessweek) articles by the following quote:

Local chipmakers benefit from their proximity to the device manufacturers because it bolsters their ability to anticipate and react to new features that are in demand, said Ben El-Baz, head of U.S. marketing for Allwinner.

“Shenzhen is really the electronics hub for the world,” El-Baz said in a phone interview. “We are so close to the market that we’re able to come out with new solutions faster than our competitors. We can do it at lower cost.”

as well as the fact that:

The surge in cheaper devices hasn’t gone unnoticed by more established computer makers. Hewlett-Packard this year began selling the HP 8, a $170 tablet that runs on an Allwinner quad-core processor.

In [1], however, the internal text contains reference to Rockchip as well:

Note that this same blog of mine started to recognize Rockchip 2 years ago with MWC 2012: Fuzhou Rockchip Electronics post which was followed 10 months later with another one claiming no less than China’s HW engineering lead: The Rockchip RK292 series (RK2928 and RK2926) example. Under the Rockchip tag you could find even more recent ones.

Intel Corp. (INTC) and Qualcomm Inc. (QCOM), the two largest U.S. chipmakers, are under threat in the fastest-growing part of the tablet market from a band of upstarts with names like Allwinner Technology Co. and Fuzhou Rockchip Electronics Co. that are little known outside southern China.

Allwinner, based in Zhuhai near the manufacturing center of Shenzhen, became the No. 2 tablet-processor maker behind Apple Inc. in 2012 as demand for cheaper tablets stoked sales of its low-cost chips, according to IDC. Qualcomm ranks third, while Intel comes in at No. 6, following Rockchip.

Success at Allwinner, which was founded in 2007, and Rockchip, established in 2001, is being driven by increasing demand for inexpensive tablets in their home market, where some devices sell for as little as $50, and in other developing economies. Sales of tablets that retail for less than $150 and don’t carry a brand name will rise 36 percent this year, IDC estimates, driving a 22 percent increase in total tablet shipments. The market for tablet processors grew 32 percent in 2013 to $3.6 billion, according to Strategy Analytics.

Allwinner accounted for 18.2 million of the 88.3 million tablet processors shipped in the fourth quarter of 2013, IDC said. That was more than three times what Santa Clara, California-based Intel, the world’s largest chipmaker, shipped in the same period. Rockchip sold 9 million.

Rockchip representatives didn’t return messages for comment.

Update: China’s Parallel Universe [EE Times, March 26, 2014]

SHENZHEN, China — When I’m in China, I often feel as though I’ve dropped into a parallel universe. But worse, once I get back to the good old US of A, I feel even more lost.

This is because I run smack-dab into Western-centric preconceived views on market trends, design requirements, and market leaders that don’t often apply to China.

When I recently sat down with Eva Wu, marketing manager of Allwinner Technology in Zhuhai, she set the record straight. “Yes,” she told me, “there were 10 apps processor vendors in China, all competing for the tablet market in 2012. But by early 2014, those dominating the tablet market are now pretty much down to only three companies — Allwinner, RockChip, and MediaTek.”

I have always felt that a winnowing-down among China’s apps processor vendors was necessary and would happen sooner or later. But I didn’t expect such a drastic change so quickly.

The following table, compiled by Chinese industry sources, is a snapshot of China’s tablet apps processor market. The 2014 market forecast shows a clear upward trend for Taiwan’s MediaTek, doubling shipments and holding its own in China.

Tablet Application Processor Vendors for Chinese Tabletsimage
Source: Compilations of China’s industry data

It’s easy for the Western players to dismiss what’s happening in China, on the presumption that “those guys are playing only in the Tier 2 market.”

Know your tier 2 players
Maybe so, but I find that knowing your Tier 2 players (the guy below you on the ladder) is vitally important. Some of those players are very ambitious and climbing fast. They have no intention to remain Tier 2 forever.

Allwinner’s Wu proudly told me that Allwinner was the first AP vendor to achieve the Android 4.4 Google Mobile Service certification. Noting that the certification tells the world the stability of Allwinner’s apps processor, Wu said, “You have to pass the certification test in order to play in the US market. US retailers like Walmart or BestBuy wouldn’t accept the products without it.”


Wu noted that Allwinner’s apps processors are getting designed into Tier 1 tablets — such as Sony’s tablet projectors and Samsung’s tablet designed for printers.

Parallel universe for STB SoCs
Meanwhile, the same parallel universe characterizes the set-top box world. Over here in China, the so-called over-the-top (OTT) market has exploded as Internet companies like Alibaba have gone whole-hog with video services over the Internet. This dates back to the third quarter last year.

The OTT market is growing fast, according to Wu, with as many as 2 million OTT boxes sold in a month at its peak.

For Chinese consumers, there are three ways to receive digital video services. They’re available on smart TVs, which cost around 10,000 RMB (US$1,630). Another route is OTT boxes, priced between 200 and 300 RMB ($33 to $49). The last option is an Android USB stick that you can plug into a TV, selling for between 100 and 200 RMB ($16 to $33).

To Chinese vendors comparing tablet SoCs with IP set-top SoCs, it’s clear that key subsystems — including CPU and GPU — are already common. Allwinner is among many Chinese vendors leveraging their tablet SoCs to enter the exploding OTT market.

Of course, back in the USA, leading cable set-top chip vendors like Broadcom have a very different view of the set-top box market. When I chatted with Stephen Palm, senior technical director at Broadband Technology Group, this week, he pointed out that requirements in today’s set-tops in the West are nothing like what current mobile SoCs are capable of handling.

End of update

while both articles contain a whole paragraph devoted to Spreadtrum as well:

Note that this same blog of mine started to recognize Spreadtrum 27 months ago with World’s lowest cost, US$40-50 Android smartphones — sub-$100 retail — are enabled by Spreadtrum post which was followed 7 months later with another one claiming no less than Lowest H2’12 device cost SoCs from Spreadtrum will redefine the entry level smartphone and feature phone markets. Under the Spreadtrum tag you could find even more recent ones.

Spreadtrum’s Relationships

Like MediaTek, Shanghai-based Spreadtrum Communications Inc. is building on its relationship with handset makers serving the China market and exporting from there. The company, founded in 2001, supplies both processors and modems for smartphones that can retail for as little as $25, said Diana Jovin, a U.S.- based vice president at Spreadtrum.

Her company, which is owned by the Chinese government, has learned that quickly providing adaptable solutions is needed to succeed in a rapidly changing market, she said.

“A significant part of the mobile-handset ecosystem is centered in China,” Jovin said. “We’re the only vendor located in China serving those customers. We’ve expanded our portfolio quite rapidly and have the breadth and depth to compete effectively on a global basis.”

Spreadtrum, which has supplied chips used in Samsung’s Galaxy Star model and HTC Corp.’s Desire, is looking to build on its China base just as Qualcomm, the largest maker of semiconductors used in phones, is trying replicate its worldwide market dominance in that country, the biggest global mobile-phone market.

Regarding the question how the western chipmakers could meet these challenges:

Intel Priority

Intel Chief Executive Officer Brian Krzanich — who has made catching up in mobile computing a priority since taking over the company in May — said he’s aiming to quadruple tablet-chip sales to 40 million this year and processors from his company will make their way into devices costing less than $100. To speed adoption, Intel will provide tablet makers with subsidies — what it calls “contra revenue” — to make the cost of its chips competitive. That will cut into profitability this year.

Kathy Gill, a spokeswoman for Intel, said the company is “absolutely accelerating” its roadmap for its Atom line of low-power, low-cost processors for phones, tablets and budget laptops.

New Chips

Qualcomm has already responded to the demand for lower-cost devices made in China with new chips, said Cristiano Amon, the head of the company’s chip division.

The adoption of a faster wireless-data technology called long-term evolution, or LTE, particularly by No. 1 wireless carrier China Mobile Ltd., will open the door for Qualcomm, the San Diego-based company says. While other companies including Intel, MediaTek and Broadcom Corp. (BRCM) have announced LTE-capable chips, Qualcomm has been in the market for more than two years and has 100 percent market share in devices that have integrated modems, according to IDC.

Qualcomm’s Edge

Qualcomm’s advantage in LTE modem chips will be tough to beat. Unlike for stand-alone processors, there’s no source of off-the-shelf modem designs [there is, however, highly advanced semiconductor IP on the market with CEVA as the lead vendor in that space which is dating back to CEVA Introduces Low Power, Multi-Mode LTE-Advanced Reference Architecture for the New CEVA-XC4000 DSP Architecture Framework [press release, Feb 21, 2012] – you can find more about that in The future of the semiconductor IP ecosystem post of mine], and building one takes years of experience, testing and qualification work with phone-service providers, according to Will Strauss, an analyst at Mesa, Arizona-based Forward Concepts Co.

In processors, “everybody can get in, thanks to ARM and the ease of implementing your own applications processor. They’ve lowered the bar,” Strauss said. At the same time, “the barrier for entry for LTE modems is still very, very high.”

The articles end, however, with a kind of gloomy outlook for the leadiong Western chipmakers:

I would be much more sceptical about the Western SoC vendors’ capabilities to withstand the onslaught of Chinese SoC vendors (including MediaTek). Even the “lack of modem technology” argument given above applies only to a limited degree as:

See more in:
Chinese smartphone brands to conquer the global market? [‘Experiencing the Cloud’, March 18, 2014]

Still, Chinese companies have created an obstacle that their more established rivals may struggle to overcome, said Jim McGregor, an analyst at Tirias Research. While the volumes are huge in China and emerging markets, the devices’ low prices leave little room for profits — particularly for companies like Qualcomm and Intel that have shareholders who are accustomed to wide margins, he said.

“We are not just talking about a billion here, but several billion units,” McGregor said. “It’s foolish to avoid that kind of market. The problem is with a publicly traded company, it’s against their instincts to go for it.”


1 Comment

  1. […] Én már 2 éve hívom fel erre a figyelmet. Talán most már az is elhiszi, aki eddig nem: ld. a Bloomberg (Businessweek) legitimizes Allwinner and Rockchip as challengers to Intel and Qualcomm via… [‘Experiencing the Cloud’, March 18, 2014] című bejegyzésemben található részletes, […]

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