NVIDIA's founder and president Jen-Hsun Huang has never been one to dodge a question, and that made for an excellent closing interview here at AsiaD. Outside of (re)confirming what lies ahead for Tegra, he also spoke quite openly about his feeling towards Windows on ARM in response to a question from Joanna Stern. Here's the bulk of his reply:
"It's important for [Microsoft] not to position these as PCs. From a finesse perspective -- I can't speak on their behalf -- but I would come out with tablets first with Windows on ARM. It helps to establish that this isn't a PC. Will yesterday's Office run on tomorrow's Windows on ARM PC? Will a new version of Office run on tomorrow's Windows on ARM tablets? Both questions are about legacy, and both are about Office. The actual implementation of it is radically different. I see no reason to make Office 95 to run on Windows on ARM. I think it would be wonderful, absolutely wonderful -- I'd say, as someone who uses Windows -- it would be almost a requirement to me that [the ARM] device runs Windows interoperably. If Office runs on Windows on ARM -- it's the killer app. Everything else is on the web."
He elaborated to say that he would hope Office for Windows on ARM would support the same files that today's Office does, much the same way that Office for Mac eventually synced up with its Windows-based sibling. For more from Huang's interview, hop on past the break!
On the topic of Tegra, and mobile chips in general, he started by explaining that NVIDIA has transformed quite substantially in recent years. Back in the day, he confessed that "going toe-to-toe with Intel [was] just a bad idea," noting that his competition in 2011 is actually far different. Of course, you don't have to look back too far to find Mr. CEO's badmouthing of Chipzilla, but to his credit, that back-and-forth rhetoric has all but ceased in more modern times.
He noted that NVIDIA has "backed away" from that strategy, and today it's focused on two core areas: visual computing and mobile computing. As of now, he points to Qualcomm being his main competition, though he notes that NVIDIA and Qualcomm came into this market from very different places. His company came from the computing side, while Qually entered from the communications side. Interestingly, he also stated that his "indirect competition" is largely adopted from the companies that use NVIDIA products -- "obviously Apple," he quipped.
Today, Tegra has found its way into 70 percent of all non-iPad tablets, and it's in 13 smartphone models globally ("and counting"). But Huang envisions a world where chipmaking in the mobile universe is far different than it is today. According to him, the world we're living in is quite young, so we're forced to shove whatever chips we have laying around into as many products as our mind can imagine, and then tweak 'em to make it all work. There's one chip that can be used in tablets, smartphones, MP3 players, etc. But, based on his perception, it won't be that way for long. Much in the same way that Intel has rolled out many, many variations of its Core i family at once, he suggests that the smartphone and tablet world will adopt a similar strategy soon.
He confirmed to us while 60 million units a year (roughly how many tablets overall are sold worldwide today) is hardly enough to justify it, there may come a time where enough smartphones and tablets are moved to think about creating a processor specifically for one or the other. In other words, a Tegra tailored for slates, and a Tegra tailored for phones. We asked him directly if he'd had any discussions with OEMs on going down this road, and he admitted that it was still a bit too early to start those conversations. His direct answer to our question:
"In order to build these system-on-chips, we need 500 chip designers and 1,000 software engineers to bring them to market. Two or three years each, so not exactly economic to build 'em for just the tablet, but some versions are perfect for tablets, some for high-end smartphones, somewhere between two segments. A long time ago there was only one CPU shipping at the time, and that was from Intel; and now there are many. We started out with the smartphone, but it's going to explode to all kinds of mobile devices. We also have the car market, the ultimate mobile processor."
That said, it's obvious that he's dreaming of a Tegra architecture that's scalable and transformable based on the application -- again, similar to how Intel has various levels of Core i7 CPUs for laptops and desktops. In fact, he even alluded to a scenario where Apple could come knocking for more than just MacBook Pro and Mac Pro GPUs: "There might come a time for Apple to buy some or build some [tablet chips]. It would be a great delight [to have NVIDIA's tablet chip in an iPad]."
He also thinks that the grid of apps we've been inundated with will soon morph into something far more realistic, just as soon as (presumably NVIDIA) chips can strike the right balance between power, size and performance. Things like ever-changing colored icons, various textures, and app logos that are dynamic and interactive at all times, without totally murdering the battery. How soon? "We're moments away from getting there," said Huang.
Finally, on the topic of automobiles, he reminded us that starting in 2012, all Audis would be powered by NVIDIA, and encouraged us to stay tuned for more: "You'll see a lot of cars with NVIDIA." Hopefully, he'll consider teaming up with Google there, too. An NVIDIA-powered factor navigation system with Google Maps just might single-handedly restart the global economy, you know?