Apple's bionic ARM to muscle advanced gaming graphics into iPhones

Posted:
in iPhone edited January 2014
The next generation of iPhone appears set to claim exclusive access to advanced graphics core and video decoding technology, thanks to a secret licensing deal between Apple, mobile graphics leader Imagination Technologies, and Samsung, the iPhone's ARM "system on a chip" manufacturer. The result may be an ideal platform for handheld gaming and high definition video playback.



Imagination's New 3D SGX Core



The current iPhone model and most other mobile devices use a version of the PowerVR MBX graphics processor core developed by Imagination. Mobile processor manufacturers such as Intel, Marvell, Samsung, and Texas Instruments have licensed this core and include it on their SoC or "system on a chip" designs, which pack multiple processing cores, memory, and interface components into a single, tightly integrated package.



The PowerVR MBX graphics core used in Apple's iPhone, the Nokia N95, and other popular phones supports the features of OpenGL ES 1.1. Many mobile chip manufactures have a design license to modify and develop their own SoC parts, which include Imagination's MBX graphics core.



Imagination's next generation graphics core, the PowerVR SGX, introduces OpenGL ES 2.0 support, along with a Universal Scalable Shader Engine that provides mobile devices with highly efficient, shader-based 3D graphics. SGX is not only backwards compatible with code developed for MBX, but also actually runs it with better performance and efficiency.



HD Video with the PowerVR VXD Core



Imagination has also developed VXD decoder codec components capable of playing back high definition video from a mobile device either directly or output to an external display.



The VXD core specializes in highly power efficient decoding, making it possible to handle HD video content with comparable power consumption to existing audio playback chips.



Imagination licenses both its VXD codec cores and the new SGX graphics processor core designs to chip manufacturers, but access to the latest generation of its intellectual property has been negotiated in a new way.



Samsung's Manufacturing License for SGX and VXD



In a press release issued earlier today, Imagination announced signed a licence agreement with Samsung "with respect to certain POWERVR SGX graphics and VXD video IP cores."



The release noted that the license "enables Samsung to manufacture semiconductor devices which integrate these IP cores from Imagination." According to a source familiar with the agreement, this deal is unique in that it is only a manfacturing licence, and is the first time Imagination has issued one on such terms.



The source reports that Samsung does not have a license to design chips that include the cores, only to produce them. This is different from previous licensing agreements related to the MBX graphics core, for which Samsung does have a design license.



The Mysterious Licensee



Last July, Imagination announced a deal to license its "next generation graphics and video IP cores to an international electronics systems company under a multi-use licensing agreement." The electronics system company was not named.



The release stated that "the SoCs to be developed under this license agreement will be produced for this new partner by Imagination?s existing semiconductor partners and/or new chip manufacturing partners."



The fact that this "electronics system company" was both a "new partner" and not itself a chip manufacturer strongly suggests that the international electronics mystery company was in fact, Apple, Inc., which stands among very few other companies as new to mobile graphics core licensing yet dependent upon third party manufacturers who are already Imagination partners.



Combined with knowledge that Samsung is now licensing the next generation SGX and VXD designs for manufacturing, this indicates that Apple has secured unique Imagination technology for its own exclusive use, and is using Samsung to manufacture the new SoC parts for future models.



On page 2 of 2: PA Semi Brings Custom SoC Expertise In House; Graphics are for Gaming.



PA Semi Brings Custom SoC Expertise In House



This also helps explain why Apple recently acquired a fabless chip design company. As a recent article indicated, Apple wanted to expand its in house chip design expertise. The company is taking on its own mobile processor designs that incorporate the latest graphics technology and pairing these with the most appropriate processor cores.



As illustrated in the past, that currently means the use of processors based on the ARM architecture. But the door is open for Apple to incorporate future versions of Intel's Atom line of mobile processors, which also incorporate Imagination's PowerVR graphics cores.



By licensing Imagination's graphics technology directly, Apple can keep itself flexible to adopt any mobile processor architecture while retaining a competitive edge in graphics performance. The processor agnostic design of OS X allows Apple to outmaneuver existing mobile operating systems, which are often closely tied to specific hardware.



Custom chip development is nothing new at Apple. By gaining access to exclusive new generations of mobile graphics technology, Apple can differentiate its products from other smartphones and mobile Internet devices with an edge in performance while offering full support for industry standard OpenGL ES graphics.



Graphics are for Gaming



Apple's push to build a consumer friendly App Store to deliver mobile applications on demand, combined with the reality that games are a top draw in mobile software products and Apple's recent moves in acquiring custom chip development expertise add up to a new gaming strategy.



Interestingly, the iPhone and iPod touch already exceed the performance of existing handheld gaming devices such as the Nintendo DS and Sony PlayStation Portable.



A flight simulator game demonstrated at Apple's March iPhone roadmap event.



Of the half dozen new iPhone applications Apple demonstrated at its SDK unveiling, half were video games. Artificial Life, Aspyr, Electronic Arts, Feral Interactive, Freeverse, Gameloft, id Software, Pangea, THQ, and Namco Bandai have all confirmed an intent to deliver games for the platform, with Gameloft announcing plans for fifteen titles by the end of the year.



By commoditizing mobile video gaming into the powerhouse that is iTunes, Apple can team its new smartphone and WiFi mobile platform business with the high volume software sales related to gaming. Apple quietly began developing its downloadable gaming business for the iPod in 2005, and earlier this year released a signed software platform for the iPhone and iPod touch that follows the business models of existing video game consoles developed by Nintendo and duplicated by Sony and Microsoft.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 46
    echosonicechosonic Posts: 447member
    5 years from now, perhaps, the rest of the industry will grasp what has happened, and again attempt to copy Apple.



    Get your stock while you can. sweet mercy.
  • Reply 2 of 46
    I refer you to something I said at Mac Rumors a while back ..



    http://forums.macrumors.com/showpost...0&postcount=87



    Quote:

    Normally I don't post as someone usually mentions what I want to say .. but not this time.



    As a hard core gamer I think you're all missing a bit of the bigger picture .. I have a 24" iMac, which I bought a couple of months ago. I love OSX but I still use bootcamp for WinXP. Why? To play games. What games do I play? Anything on Steam. What's Steam? It's an online gaming distribution platform for games like Half-Life 2, Call of Duty 4, Quake Wars and the number of games on it is increasing all the time.



    Now, we've already read that Apple have approached Valve (The owners of Steam) on more than one occasion to ask them to develop Steam for the Mac platform. I believe a figure of 1 million was mentioned. Apple didn't want to play. But hang on a minute, doesn't Apple already have an distribution platform of their own? Which could be used for gaming? Yes, it's called iTunes!!



    If Apple really wanted to get into games on the Mac, it really wouldn't take much. They just need to get developers on board, which haven't they already done with id and EA. Increase the number, add to iTunes and away they go!!



    Oh, and improve the gfx hardware a little bit too



    I think once Apple get into Mobile delivery of games .. it will only be a short amount of time when they start to look at the Mac platforms too
  • Reply 3 of 46
    Oh .. and I include Apple TV within "Mac platforms" by the way .. before anyone asks
  • Reply 4 of 46
    wigginwiggin Posts: 2,264member
    "Imagination announced a deal to license its 'next generation graphics and video IP cores to an international electronics systems company under a multi-use licensing agreement.' "



    Granted, evidence does suggest that Apple may have licensed the technology. However, the article says that Apple has an exclusive license. I haven't had a chance to read all of the many links in the article, but where is the evidence that this is an exclusive deal?
  • Reply 5 of 46
    I've literally been waiting years for 2 things. One is the ARM Cortex-A8, the successor to the ARM11. The other is the PowerVR SGX. I thought the best thing Apple could do was contract Texas Instruments for their next-gen OMAP3 application processors, since TI seems to be the most invested in the A8/SGX platform. What a masterstroke it would be if Apple could create an exclusive platform that outperformed the OMAP3!
  • Reply 6 of 46
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,223member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AdiFish View Post


    I refer you to something I said at Mac Rumors a while back ..



    http://forums.macrumors.com/showpost...0&postcount=87







    I think once Apple get into Mobile delivery of games .. it will only be a short amount of time when they start to look at the Mac platforms too



    I've been saying for a long time that Apple should, and likely would, get into gaiming on the iPod platform, along with its other functions. We will now see that with the itouch. As we now also have the iPhone, I thought that it was obvious it too would be there.



    Some people think that having several different functions will compromise all of them, but I don't agree with that. Different functions are merely a click on the menu, now, icon.



    With software control over what the GUI and controls will be, everything can have its ideal interface, and we can all be happy.



    Just like this?
  • Reply 7 of 46
    eaieai Posts: 417member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AdiFish View Post


    I refer you to something I said at Mac Rumors a while back ..



    http://forums.macrumors.com/showpost...0&postcount=87







    I think once Apple get into Mobile delivery of games .. it will only be a short amount of time when they start to look at the Mac platforms too



    You're wrong, they were said to approach Valve about doing Half-Life (2) for Mac, not Steam.
  • Reply 8 of 46
    My god, it's all happening.



    I just knew it in my gut that they would try their hand at portable gaming when the iPod touch was unveiled. You can only whack so many gametypes onto a click-wheel device with multiple screen sizes.



    Behold: the sweet-spot 3.5" multitouch 160dpi platform with OpenGL support.
  • Reply 9 of 46
    hattighattig Posts: 827member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by labrats5 View Post


    I've literally been waiting years for 2 things. One is the ARM Cortex-A8, the successor to the ARM11. The other is the PowerVR SGX. I thought the best thing Apple could do was contract Texas Instruments for their next-gen OMAP3 application processors, since TI seems to be the most invested in the A8/SGX platform. What a masterstroke it would be if Apple could create an exclusive platform that outperformed the OMAP3!



    ARM replace A8 with A9 since A8 has some design, err, 'issues' and wasn't a popular core to embed.



    Since I'm having posting issues tonight here as well, I'll potentially repeat myself, but Intel is using both the graphics and video decoding core in this story within the Atom's Paulsbo chipset. However this is only fabbed on an ancient 130nm process, so if Samsung are doing it on 65nm or less, it will be like night and day.
  • Reply 10 of 46
    nasseraenasserae Posts: 3,152member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AdiFish View Post


    I refer you to something I said at Mac Rumors a while back ..



    http://forums.macrumors.com/showpost...0&postcount=87







    I think once Apple get into Mobile delivery of games .. it will only be a short amount of time when they start to look at the Mac platforms too



    I really hope so. Hopefully, once they start programing for the iPhone they will realize that they are half way to develop for Mac OS.
  • Reply 11 of 46
    splinemodelsplinemodel Posts: 7,311member
    Good. Today, building an optimal mobile computer (like iPhone) requires comprehensive, SoC design. Bringing it in-house is a no-compromise solution, and will reduce the negotiation and project init time typically required in partnerships.
  • Reply 12 of 46
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by eAi View Post


    You're wrong, they were said to approach Valve about doing Half-Life (2) for Mac, not Steam.



    .. and you don't think that Valve would want to deliver HL2 via Steam??? Of course they would ..
  • Reply 13 of 46
    Now we need a joypad / joystick in the phone as 3d games are not that good with a touch screen.
  • Reply 14 of 46
    The first gaming iDevice was mostly ignored or dismissed by those few that had heard of it, but among those that grew to love it, there was nothing else like it that even came close. It was called the iFrell.



    The second iDevice was built on everything that made the first unforgettable, but sexed up so as to make it more enticing to a wider target audience. It was called the iFrack.
  • Reply 15 of 46
    melgrossmelgross Posts: 31,223member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Joe_the_dragon View Post


    Now we need a joypad / joystick in the phone as 3d games are not that good with a touch screen.



    Which touch screen devices have you played 3D games on?
  • Reply 16 of 46
    I think this speculation fits pretty nicely with Apple's recent purchase of the PA semiconductor company. Apple appears to be increasing its in house development of products that use these type of components heavily following the relative success of the iPhone. They should have the expertise/license to continue to innovate a that pace and with the same success that they have been. One small point briefly touched on the article, is that the a large advantage of using more advanced graphics processors is the support for HD decoding. So while games may be a revenue stream for them, including this level of functionality into an iTouch will help them to stay competitive in a market that is surely going to try to out do them. I think with there recent acquisitions and purchases, they have carved themselves out a strong advantage going forward.
  • Reply 17 of 46
    3G iPhone with HD streaming capabilities, a Microvision micro-projector, OLED touchscreen, video chat and thousands of applications.



    Perhaps next year?
  • Reply 18 of 46
    MarvinMarvin Posts: 14,188moderator
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Appleinsider


    Interestingly, the iPhone and iPod touch already exceed the performance of existing handheld gaming devices.



    That is very interesting. I always thought that dedicated gaming devices would be faster than generic computers. Since the iphone/ipod is almost the same price as PSP/DS and is also a touch screen mobile PDA with ipod and in the case of the iphone, a phone, it starts to look like great value for money even considering the phone contract pricing.



    I still don't think it will be a great gaming device until Apple starts building better relationships with gaming studios though. Still, I'll be getting rid of my PSP soon due to a severe lack of games in favor of somethin' that suits me better. These days, I don't really have time for games any more so I may just get an iphone after all. With the SDK, I should be able to put apps onto the device just like a PDA.
  • Reply 19 of 46
    benroethigbenroethig Posts: 2,782member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Joe_the_dragon View Post


    Now we need a joypad / joystick in the phone as 3d games are not that good with a touch screen.



    The touch screen has nothing to do with control. The iPhone is its own controller.
  • Reply 20 of 46
    project2501project2501 Posts: 433member
    Whoa, I maybe slow, but it just struck me, reading these two articles today.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post


    By commoditizing mobile video gaming into the powerhouse that is iTunes, Apple can team its new smartphone and WiFi mobile platform business with the high volume software sales related to gaming. Apple quietly began developing its downloadable gaming business for the iPod in 2005, and earlier this year released a signed software platform for the iPhone and iPod touch that follows the business models of existing video game consoles developed by Nintendo and duplicated by Sony and Microsoft.



    and



    Crytek, Epic lost billions of dollars because of piracy



    This is what they have been doing all the time, ingenious, create secure delivery system with volume, and they will come. Guarantee them piracy freedom, and big game houses will run to you.
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