PCI-SIG “nificant” Changes Brewing in Mobile

PCI-SIG Developers Conference, June 25, 2013, Santa Clara, CA

Of five significant PCI Express announcements made at this week’s PCI-SIG Developers Conference, two are aimed at mobile embedded.

From PCI to PCI Express to Gen3 speeds, the PCI-SIG is one industry consortium that lets no grass grow for long. As the embedded, enterprise and server industries roll out PCIe Gen3 and 40G/100G Ethernet, the PCI-SIG and its key constituents like Cadence, Synopsis, LeCroy and others are readying for another speed doubling to 16 GT/s (giga transfers/second) by 2015. The PCIe 4.0 next step evolves bandwidth to 16Gb/s or a whopping 64 GB/s (big “B”) total lane bandwidth in x16 width. PCIe 4.0 Rev 0.5 will be available Q1 2014 with Rev 0.9 targeted for Q1 2015.

Table of major PCI-SIG announcements at Developers Conference 2013

Table of major PCI-SIG announcements at Developers Conference 2013

Yet as “SIG-nificant” as this announcement is, PCI-SIG president Al Yanes said it’s only one of five major news items. The others include: a PCIe 3.1 specification that consolidates a series of ECNs in the areas of power, performance and functionality; PCIe Outside the Box which uses a 1-3 meter “really cheap” copper cable called PCIe OCuLink with an 8G bit rate; plus two embedded and mobile announcements that I’m particularly enthused about. Refer to the table for a snapshot.

New M.2 Specification

The new M.2 specification is a small, mobile embedded form factor designed to replace the previous “Mini PCI” in Mini Card and Half Mini Card sizes. The newer, as-yet-publicly-unreleased M.2 card will be smaller in size and volume but is intended to provide scalable PCIe performance to allow designers to tune SWaP and I/O requirements. PCI-SIG marketing workgroup chair Ramin Neshati told me that M.2 is part of the PCI-SIG’s increased focus on mobile.

The scalable M.2 card is designed as an I/O plug in for Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, WAN/cellular, SSD and other connectivity in platforms including ultrabook, tablet, and “maybe even smartphone,” said Neshati. At Rev 0.7 now, Rev 0.9 will be released soon and the final (Rev 1.0?) spec will become public by Q4 2013.

PCI-SIG M.2 card form factor

The PCI-SIG’s impending M.2 form factor is designed for mobile embedded ultrabooks, tablets, and possibly smartphones. The card will have a scalable PCIe interface and is designed for Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, cellular, SSD and more. (Courtesy: PCI-SIG.)

Mobile PCIe (M-PCIe)

Seeing the momentum in mobile and the interest in a PCIe on-board interconnect lead the PCI-SIG to work with the MIPI Alliance and create Mobile PCI Express: M-PCIe. The specification is now available to PCI-SIG members and creates an “adapted PCIe architecture” bridge between regular PCIe and MIPI M-PHY.

The Mobile PCI Express (M-PCIe) specification targets mobile embedded devices like smartphones to provide high-speed, on-board PCIe connectivity. (Courtesy: PCI-SIG.)

The Mobile PCI Express (M-PCIe) specification targets mobile embedded devices like smartphones to provide high-speed, on-board PCIe connectivity. (Courtesy: PCI-SIG.)

Using the MIPI M-PHY physical layer allows smartphone and mobile designers to stick with one consistent user interface across multiple platforms, including already-existing OS drivers. PCIe support is “baked into Windows, iOS, Android,” and others, says PCI-SIG’s Neshati.  PCI Express also has a major advantage when it comes to interoperability testing, which runs from the protocol stack all the way down to the electrical interfaces. Taken collectively, PCIe brings huge functionality and compliance benefits to the mobile space.

M-PCIe supports MIPI’s Gear 1 (1.25-1.45 Gbps), Gear 2 (2.5-2.9 Gbps) and Gear 3 (5.0-5.8 Gbps) speeds. As well, the M-PCIe spec provides power optimization for short channel mobile platforms, primarily aimed at WWAN front end radios, modem IP blocks, and possibly replacing MIPI’s own universal file storage UFS mass storage interface (administered by JEDEC).

M-PCIe by the PCI-SIG can be used in multiple high speed paths in a smartphone mobile device. (Courtesy: PCI-SIG and MIPI Alliance.)

M-PCIe by the PCI-SIG can be used in multiple high speed paths in a smartphone mobile device. (Courtesy: PCI-SIG and MIPI Alliance.)

PCI Express Ready for More

More information on these five announcements will be rolling out soon. But it’s clear that the PCI-SIG sees mobile and embedded as the next target areas for PCI Express in the post-PC era, while still not abandoning the standard’s bread and butter in PCs and high-end/high-performance servers.


HTML5 Is What’s Needed To Rapidly Develop IVI Automotive Apps

HTML5 logo

Car manufacturers know that in-car technology like navigation systems sells cars. The pace of the smartphone movement is impacting the painfully slow speed with which automotive manufacturers develop new cars and tech features. Consumers trade out their phones every 2 years, but a two year old car is still considered nearly “new” by Kelly Blue Book. So how can the auto OEMs satisfy consumers’ tastes for updated, red-hot in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) systems and add-on Apps?

Elektrobit speaks about HTML5, IVI, and HMI for automotive markets

Automotive software supplier Elektrobit thinks HTML5 is the answer. Coincidentally, so does RIM’s QNX division, along with Intel.  QNX supplies “CAR 2″ software to several auto OEMs, and Intel is behind Tizen, an HTML5-based competitor to Android.  While Samsung has endorsed Tizen for a handful of smartphones, Intel has publicly stated that Tizen is also targeting automotive IVI systems as I wrote about here.

At a webinar today (5 March 2013) hosted by Automotive World magazine, Elektrobit’s VP of Automotive Rainer Holve, argued that HTML5 is the perfect language in which to develop and deploy the fast-changing IVI HMI software. Most importantly, the car’s core “native” IVI functions should stay separate and subject to safety-critical coding practices.

By partitioning the IVI software in this manner, the two ecosystems are decoupled and can run on their own market- and OEM-driven schedules.  This means that native IVI–like GPS navigation, audio, HVAC, or OBDII diagnostic information like fuel consumption–can be developed slowly and methodically on the typical 2-5+ year automobile OEM cycle.

But the faster moving, consumer smartphone inspired IVI portion, and its fast moving add-on Apps ecosystem, can move very, very quickly. This allows consumers to refresh not only the Apps, but alows the OEMs to upgrade the entire HMI experience every few years without having to replace the whole car.

HTML5 decouples the slow automotive dev cycle, from the super-fast IVI App cycle.

HTML5 decouples the slow automotive dev cycle, from the super-fast IVI App cycle.

While the OEMs would love for an HMI refresh to force the consumer to replace the car every two years, it’s not going to happen. HMTL5 is a reasonable alternative and they know it. According to Elektrobit, Chrysler, GM, and Jaguar/Land Rover (JLR) have already started projects with HTML5.

HTML5 is an “evolution and cleanup of previous HTML standards,” said Elektrobit’s Holve, and is composed of HTML+CSS+JavaScript, along with new features for A/V, 2D graphics canvas, a 3D API, support for hardware acceleration, and much more.  HTML5 is based upon open standards and is supported by Web Hypertext Application Technology Working Group (WHATWG) and the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C). Independently, W3C is working on a standardized API for JavaScript, which makes the HTML5 value proposition even sweeter.

Besides decoupling the HMI software from the “core” HMI functions, HTML5 would allow third-party Apps developers to swiftly write and deploy applications for IVI systems. Besides Internet connectivity itself, this is the one IVI feature that consumers demand: a choice of what Apps to add whenever they so choose. And since every automobile OEM will have to certify an App for safe in-vehicle use with their particular system, HTML5 allows App developers to create one core App that can be easily modified for multiple manufacturers and their myriad (and differentiated) vehicle models.  In short: HTML5 makes things easier for everyone, yet still allows a robust third-party market to flourish.

It’s important to note how this is both similar to, and differs from, the current IVI strategy of many OEMs that rely solely on the smartphone for Apps. Chevrolet, Peugeot, Renault, Toyota and v others tether the smartphone to the IVI system and “mirror” the phone’s Apps on the screen (see my blog on Mirroring). This allows the wildly robust iOS and Android App ecosystems into the car (and soon RIM/Blackberry and Windows 8 Phone), but it comes at a price.

2013 Chevrolet MyLink IVI uses MirrorLink with smartphone apps

2013 Chevrolet MyLink IVI uses MirrorLink with smartphone apps

In this scenario, the auto OEM must certify every App individually for use in their vehicle to assure safety or that critical car systems can’t be hacked or compromised. Or, the OEM can allow all Apps to run and hope for the best. One hopes a rogue App doesn’t access the CAN bus and apply the ABS or electric steering.

HTML5, on the other hand, gently forces developers to create Apps destined for IVI systems, but adds only a slight burden on them to make minor changes for each manufacturer’s certification. In this way they’re not barred from the car indiscriminately, but can develop a business of IVI apps separate from their smartphone iOS, Android and other Apps.

Intel's Renee James is betting on HTML5 in Tizen to kickstart transparent computing. (Image taken by author at IDF 2012.)

Intel’s Renee James is betting on HTML5 in Tizen to kickstart transparent computing. (Image taken by author at IDF 2012.)

Will HTML5 be successful? Is it the right answer for the rabid consumer’s taste for car tech, while still giving the auto manufacturer the safety and security they’re required to offer by law? I was skeptical about Tizen until Samsung’s announcements at Mobile World Congress 2013 last month. With Tizen pushing HTML5 for “openness”, it may just gain traction in automotive, too.

Watch this space. We’ll keep you updated.

Tizen OS for Smartphones – Intel’s Biggest Bet Yet

Tizen HTML5 from Intel and Linux Foundation to be used by Samsung handsets in 2013 mobile.

Figure 1: Intel and the Linux Foundation collaborated on Tizen, an open source HTML5-based platform for smartphones, IVI, and other embedded devices.

[Update on 27 February 2013: At the recent 2013 Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, Samsung demoed a development handset running Tizen. CNET editor Luke Westaway posted a video review of the device which showed snappy performance, Android-like features, but felt that the early version was "a bit rough around the edges". Still, to see Tizen running on actual consumer hardware gives it cred.  A larger review by CNET's Roger Cheng can be found here: http://cnet.co/15R8xs3 ]

[8 Jan 2013 Update: Added "Disclosure" below and fixed some typos.]

Disclosure: As of 8 Jan 2013, I became a paid blogger for Intel’s ‘Roving Reporter’ embedded Intelligent Systems Alliance (edc.intel.com). But my opinion here is my own, and I call it like I see it.

Samsung hedges Apple, Google bets with Intel’s HTML5-based Tizen

Just when you thought the smartphone OS market was down to a choice between iOS and Android, Intel-backed Tizen jumps into the fray (Figure 1).  Tizen is Intel’s next kick at the can for mobile, and it’s joining several OS wannabes:  Microsoft Windows Phone 8, RIM Blackberry’s whatever-they’re-going-to-announce on 31 January 2013, and eventually Ubuntu phone platform.

Figure 2: On 3 January 2013 Ubuntu announced a plan to offer a smartphone OS. Key feature: use the phone as a computing platform and even drive a desktop monitor.

Samsung  Prepares to “Date” Other Partners

Samsung Electronics announced on 3 January that it will start selling smartphones sometime this year using Tizen as the OS platform. Samsung’s spokesperson didn’t elaborate on timing or models, but said in an emailed statement ”We plan to release new, competitive Tizen devices…and keep expanding the lineup.”

Tizen is the third incarnation of Intel’s attempts at building an embedded ecosystem which included MeeGo and Moblin. Tizen, in collaboration with The Linux Foundation, was announced mid-2011 and has been quietly gestating in the background and is now on Release 2.0. One of the largest supporters of Tizen is Samsung, so the recent announcement is no surprise.

Samsung no doubt seeks a back-up plan as Google’s Android OS has flown past Apple’s iOS as the predominant operating system for mobile devices  plus tablets (75%; Figure 3).

Figure 3: Android is now the predominant smartphone OS in 2012, according to IDC. (Source: IDC; http://www.idc.com/getdoc.jsp?containerId=prUS23818212 ).

As Samsung is now the world’s largest smartphone supplier (Figure 4), the company might be following a play from Apple in seeking to control more of its own destiny through Tizen.

Figure 4: IC Insights – and most other analyst firms – rank Samsung as the world’s largest smartphone supplier. This data is from 28 November 2012.(Source: IC Insights; http://www.icinsights.com/news/bulletins/Samsung-And-Apple-Set-To-Dominate-2012-Smartphone-Market/)

And with Samsung and Apple’s patent dispute nastiness, along with rumblings over whether Samsung may or may not continue to supply processors for iPhones, Tizen represents one more way for Samsung to control their own destiny separate from Google and Apple.

Intel’s Mobile Imperative Needs HTML5

Intel, on the other hand, desperately needs more wins in the mobile space.  Last year I blogged how the company gained some traction by announcing several Atom (Medfield) SoC-based handset wins,  but the company has gone on record stating their real goal is to be inside mobile devices from Apple, Samsung or both. In fact, it’s a bet-the-farm play for Intel and it most likely pushed Intel CEO Paul Otellini into his future retirement plans.

The general embedded market is closely following what happens in mobile, adopting low-power ARM SoCs and Atom CPUs, using wireless Wi-Fi and NFC radios for M2M nodes, and deploying Android for both headed and headless systems such as POS and digital signage. If Tizen moves the needle in smartphones for Samsung, chances are it’ll be used by other players. With HTML5, it will be straightforward to port applications and data across hardware platforms – a goal that Intel’s EVP Renee James  touted at 2012′s Intel Developers Forum (Figure 5).

Figure 5: Intel’s Renee James is betting on HTML5 in Tizen to kickstart transparent computing. (Image taken by author at IDF 2012.)


Tizen is based upon HTML5 with plans to achieve the old Java “write once, run anywhere” promise.   For Intel, the Tizen SDK and API means that applications written for the most popular mobile processors – such as Qualcomm’s Snapdragon or nVidia’s Tegra 3 – could easily run on Intel processors. In fact, at IDF Intel posited a demo of a user’s application running first on a home PC, then a smart phone, then a connected in-vehicle infotainment (IVI) system, and then finally on an office platform. Intel’s Renee James explained that it matters not what underlying hardware runs the application – HTML5 allows seamless migration across any and all devices.

Tizen Stakes for Intel and Samsung

This pretty much sums up the Tizen vision, both for Intel and for Samsung. Tizen means freedom, as it abstracts the hardware from any application.

If successful, Tizen opens up processor sockets to Intel as mobile vendors swap CPUs. Tizen also allows Samsung to choose any processor, while relying on open source and open standards-based code supported by The Linux Foundation.