At an earlier press event in Shenzhen, Imagination Technologies' CEO Sir Hossein Yassaie delivered a clear message: his company's $100 million acquisition of MIPS isn't a short term strategy. Additionally, he has ambitious plans with the latter's chip architecture -- a well-known rival of ARM and Intel's x86.
In his presentation, Yassaie boasted that there are currently over 300 SoCs based on MIPS. And out of the five billion devices shipped with Imagination Tech's IP to date, three billion of them use MIPS. These include phones, tablets (especially in China), wearables, printers, networking devices, storage devices and more.
For a company who already owns IP in the graphic (including ray-tracing), video (low-power transcoding) and radio processing space, it's no surprise for Imagination Tech to acquire MIPS to complete its portfolio. The result is the upcoming Warrior CPU that promises "best-in-class performance and efficiency" in both 32-bit and 64-bit flavors, but we've been told that these won't hit the market until next year. Nevertheless, Yassaie believes that MIPS has strong technical advantages in terms of silicon area, power and capabilities such as multithreading. And apparently he has people to back him up on this.
"In my discussion with many customers in the last four months -- customers who have used both MIPS and competitors' solution -- the feedback for MIPS has been very, very positive from a technical point of view," said the exec.
Fortunately, Yassaie promised that as an open IP company, Imagination Tech will still happily let its customers mix its CPUs or its renowned PowerVR GPUs with other offerings.
Then there's the aspect of Imagination offering a third choice. Without naming the obvious "one key player," Yassaie stated that there needs to be a balance in the CPU IP market, and he believes his company has the energy and the long term vision to create an alternative choice.
"MIPS is here to make sure that there is a Pepsi."
"One example I often use is that the industry needs MIPS as much as MIPS needs the industry, because no industry can operate in an environment where it is a near-monopoly. I often say on this subject that wherever there is a Coke, there will be Pepsi. And MIPS is here to make sure that there is a Pepsi."
Yassaie admitted that MIPS Technologies had been constrained by difficult history and instability prior to the acquisition in February, but he assured us that this is now in the past.
"The company's future had been unclear, and the energy put into the roadmap and the future, in our opinion, had been below our acceptable level," said the CEO. "Those issues are fixed -- we already announced a very strong roadmap. We also have a very strong link to a lot of the companies that matter. For example, the link we have with Google is much stronger than what MIPS had in the past."
David Harold, the Senior Director of Marketing Communications, added that the state of MIPS Technologies back then wasn't as bad as some had put it. According to Gartner, the chip designer actually had a 17 percent growth in 2012, which was ahead of the overall design IP market's 11.2 percent. And with the acquisition of MIPS, Imagination Tech now owns over 11 percent of the market.
"I have to stress that the strategy with MIPS isn't short term," the CEO continued. "We see this as a multi-year plan. Our goal is to have 25 percent of the processor market within five years in terms of design elements."
"Our goal is to have 25 percent of the processor market within five years in terms of design elements."
Throughout the press event, Yassaie reminded us several times that MIPS is a fully supported architecture within the Android source code, and that Google is keen to keep it that way. But when it came to the touchy subject of fragmentation, the exec put some of the blame on the Android NDK (Native Development Kit, which lets developers code with native-code languages like C and C++), which has apparently caused some apps to run well on one platform but not so much on the other. Imagination Tech, on the other hand, claims to be well-prepared to prevent such mishap.
"We've put significantly more investment into emulation and working on a technology known as MagicCode, which would emulate any backward compatibility or legacy-related issue," said the CEO. "We expect that to resolve to very, very high compatibility; in the same way, for example, an Intel platform has achieved through being adopted by companies like Samsung."
Yassaie also went slightly technical on the new LLVM (Low Level Virtual Machine) compiler, which allows apps to be developed in an architecture-independent intermediate language. Regardless, the exec is placing a heavy bet on Google's support and the openness of Android.
"You can see that with the success that Intel is beginning to have in the mobile space, I am absolutely convinced that MIPS will have a strong play in the mobile market, given the trends that are ongoing."
Update: We previously misinterpreted "NDK" as "MTK" (MediaTek). The article has since been updated with the correct information.