I just enjoyed reading Kevin Tofel's blog post "The big mobile and desktop platform merge is underway," and it inspired me to expand on this important trend from the TI perspective.  Major shifts in computing occur about every 20 years, as technologies evolve to enable new experiences and product opportunities.  Today, we are on the cusp of the next major shift as mobile devices provide experiences previously done on desktop PCs, but take these even further to enable many more capabilities and value propositions, on top of mobility and all-day battery life.

This is a topic that is important to TI, as we have worked with key industry partners to drive towards this reality for more than six years.   I indicated in a 2005 Computer Business Review article that  the ARM Cortex-A family (A8 at the time) would "enable a lot more enterprise applications and usage models of the phone" as well as "more convergence on a device."   We could see that this was just the start of something that could change the world.  At the time, we were already collaborating with ARM on the Cortex-A9 and Cortex-A15 MPcore processors to address future needs with multiprocessing, hardware virtualization, extended physical memory addressing and more.  It is exciting to see the fruits of many peoples' labor, transforming mobile devices into what many are starting to call the "Post-PC Era." 

Kevin's blog identified several key, initial steps in this mobile shift.  The processing and display capabilities of mobile devices are enabling compelling content and applications with new ways of interaction.  This shift will advance to enable multiple, full-featured operating systems and complete desktop environments running on the device you carry in your pocket, combining the best of both worlds.  There are several enabling technologies that will further fuel this momentum.

  • ARM Cortex-A9 MPcore processors, such as the TI OMAP4430 platform, will lead the charge in 2011 to provide the performance level required for a good user experience, as well as support for multiple high-resolution displays to provide a desktop experience through docking.
  • The TI OMAP5430 platform, based on the ARM Cortex-A15 MPcore processor, will raise the bar significantly in 2012 by increasing CPU and GPU performance by 3x and 5x respectively, extending DRAM memory size from 2GB to 8GB and supporting multiple operating systems efficiently with hardware virtualization support.  This level of performance, support for interfaces like USB 3.0 and SATA, and the ability to drive four simultaneous displays, will extend mobile devices from content consumption to content creation devices.  A good example of this desktop environment use case can be seen at  2:22 minutes into this video.   A mobile device is docked, with a mobile operating system running on one screen and a full desktop operating system running on another, to highlight key productivity and content creation tasks that are enabled by the OMAP 5 platform.

  • Proliferation of operating systems on the ARM platform such as Ubuntu, Google Chrome and the next generation of Microsoft Windows that could be co-resident with mobile operating systems on devices.   Hardware virtualization will streamline this ability on the OMAP 5 platform.   However, we already show Ubuntu+Android running on the OMAP4430 platform using a shared Linux kernel without hypervisor technology in this video.   You can work in the desktop Ubuntu environment with a large display, keyboard and mouse while using the mobile device independently with its touchscreen.

  • Proliferation of Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) can provide a seamless desktop experience on mobile devices with a remote computer or cloud server leveraging a optimal balance of remote and local resources.  This technology will allow you to take your desktop with you wherever you go.
  • Industry standardization of a mobile docking connector can be a real catalyst to ubiquitous  "mobile" desktop experiences with the ability to dock wherever you go.   A connector such as the CEA -2017 Portable Digital Media Interface (PDMI) providing audio, video, USB 3.0 and power is interesting, but other options may appear.   Longer-term, seamless connectivity through future wireless technologies is attractive -wireless docking where you don't even have to take your mobile device out of your pocket!

The future of computing and extending the desktop experience to mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets looks very bright.  The technologies are falling into place to accelerate this mobile shift and enable unique and exciting possibilities. 

I would be interested to hear where you would like to see it go.