Bangalore: Adding one more device to the cornucopia of low-cost computing and communication gadgets, Freescale Semiconductor Inc. on Wednesday unveiled a smartbook powered by its microprocessor and developed by Mumbai-based networking company Smartlink Networks Systems Ltd.
Smartlink, formerly D-Link India Ltd, is set to launch the device in India and elsewhere in December.
“This (smartbook) is an example that as a semiconductor company, we will make more products that are unique to the emerging markets,” said Rich Beyer, chairman and chief executive of the US-based Freescale, who is visiting Bangalore for the company’s annual technology forum.
Positive indications: Freescale chairman and chief executive Rich Beyer says there are signs of recovery in the semiconductor industry. Hemant Mishra / Mint
Beyer said there are signs of recovery in the semiconductor industry, which has a crest and a trough of its own; this time, its slump predated the global economic downturn. “We see the growth already; India continues to surprise us and please us.”
Freescale already has 60% of the global market share in e-books, and by teaming up with electronics companies such as ARM Holdings Plc and Qualcomm Inc., it is pitting smartbooks against netbooks.
Smartbooks, powered by ARM chips and running on the open source Linux platform, are a new category of thin, light mini-notebooks, and cheaper than laptops.
Notebooks are a smaller version of laptops, while netbooks, usually powered by Intel Corp.’s atom chips and use Microsoft Corp.’s Windows operating system, are primarily meant for Internet use.
Freescale is in talks with original equipment manufacturers, both in India and globally, but doesn’t rule out possibility of alignment with telecom companies in India wanting to bundle the device with their broadband offerings.
The smartbook lies at the intersection of computing, entertainment and connectivity, and its high point is the various business models it can work with, those that would offer a higher chance of success for local manufacturers.
“Netbooks are artificially constrained by Intel and Microsoft (products) but in smartbooks, there is no power, price or business model constraint,” said Henri Richard, senior vice-president and chief sales and marketing officer at Freescale.
Richard said he wasn’t worried too much about the price, which, according to him, depends on the business model and can range from zero (when subsidized) to around $400 for high-end devices.
It’s not only the consumer electronics, automotive, healthcare and energy sectors that constitute the next growth drivers for the semiconductor maker, which said India is at the heart of their design work with as much as one-third of its microcontrollers being “touched by Indian designers”.
Already collaborating with several auto component suppliers as well as manufacturers, including Tata Motors Ltd on its small car Nano project, Freescale is pinning hopes on the heightened activities in the sector, both in two-wheelers and four-wheelers, where its digital signal processing microcontrollers would play a “pivotal role in the electric vehicles”.
The firm is, however, closely following the Indian government’s announcement of a made-in-India microcontroller programme, which the Congress government announced soon after coming to power in July.
Though many experts said it is a non-starter as similar announcements were made in the past but didn’t yield anything, Freescale country manager Ganesh Guruswamy said: “They (government) must have hit something (in security) after (the) Mumbai attacks and if they want to design their own chip, we are willing to work with them.”
The Indian semiconductor market is growing at 13.4%, according to a report from research firm Frost and Sullivan and the Indian Semiconductor Association.
Looking prospectively, the Indian market will outperform other emerging markets, Richard said. He regretted that Freescale wasn’t moving fast enough in India. “We are too slow and too shy.”
The auction of high-speed wireless services known as third-generation, or 3G, spectrum in India could usher in a revolution, said Beyer. “We will continue to invest in the development of products that have high degree of functionality and low cost.”