What Happened to Texas Instruments OMAPs, the SoCs That Ruled the Mobile World for a Decade
In September 2012 Texas Instruments announced its intention to phase out its mobile SoCs. The OMAP family that had been the absolute protagonist for almost a decade —He was a natural partner of Nokia, which took advantage of its chips in a massive way — suddenly it didn’t make sense.
The decision seems surprising in perspective: Didn’t they see the potential of the mobile world? If they did, they did not grasp its magnitude, because little by little they were losing battles against Qualcomm or Samsung — Apple would come later — and threw in the towel instead of taking advantage of their experience in this field. The OMAPs that dominated feature phones could barely participate in the smartphone revolution.
From everything to nothing
Everything had started ten years earlier, in December 2002. Texas Instruments announced its alliance with STMicroelectronics to create the Open Mobile Application Processor Interfaces (OMAPI) initiative that was intended to be used in mobiles with 2.5G (GPRS) and 3G connectivity.
The implementation of this initiative was the one that led to the birth of the OMAP (Open Multimedia Applications Platform) family of Texas Instruments, SoCs (System-on-a-Chip) for mobile phones and multimedia applications.
These processors made use of ARM architecture that was beginning to show its virtues on mobile phones very early. The first OMAP 1 SoCs ended up being used in hundreds of feature phones, but also in remarkable products such as tablets Nokia 770 that were presented in 2005 and that were one of the first products that we talked about in Engadget then.
The success of these chips was absolutely overwhelming, and Nokia ended up becoming a huge and exceptional customer for Texas Instruments. The Finnish firm leveraged SoCs from other manufacturers, but OMAPs became an integral part of many of their mobiles.
Those SoCs evolved significantly, and from the 130 nm micros of the OMAP 1 family (except for 1710) moved to the 65 and 45 nm Socs from the third iteration, OMAP 3. These mics were for example only used in the mythical Nokia 900, but they were also popular with manufacturers who were beginning to see clearly that smartphones would change everything.
A) Yes, Motorola used them on their Droid and Droid 2, while LG would use them for its LG Optimus Black and Samsung would take advantage of them for i8910 Omnia HD, launched in 2009 and which were the first mobiles capable of playing and recording HD video (720p).
By then things were beginning to change in the world of mobility. Apple had already presented its first iPhone and had shown the world where the shots would end up goingBut the threat seemed to be more in the software than in the hardware.
Qualcomm takes over the market
However, Texas Instruments began to be threatened by powerful competitors. The output of their OMAP 4 in 2009 It certainly had some success (even Samsung used them in its Galaxy S II or Nexus, and Amazon would take advantage of them for its Fire HD tablets) but Samsung itself was beginning to work hard on its Exynos, although the real threat came from Qualcomm, not so much for its processors as for its 4G modems.
The company was one of the big ones involved in the development of the 4G / LTE standard, from which it would end up having a substantial part of the patents on which this technology is sustained. Their Snapdragon had been the first to reach 1,000 MHz frequency in 2009 with Toshiba TG01But integrating their baseband modems for those 4G networks was the real knockout blow for networks that were an essential component of the future of smartphones.
At Texas Instruments they had lost interest in the smartphone market. The firm decided to abandon the race for manufacturing processes, increasingly ambitious and expensive, and began to focus on its role as a supplier of analog products, which did not need chips with advanced lithography as it did in the world of smartphones.
Texas Instruments’ own investors were clamoring for that transition. Analysts they explained then what “wireless business is hurting stocks“, and they bet on the analog segment as a fundamental part of the future of the company.
For years, the aforementioned Qualcomm or Samsung began to threaten their market position, but also others like Broadcom, Nvidia and even Intel – which made some attempt to reach that market – put Texas Instruments in a difficult situation.
How it has changed the story
In fact, it is curious to see how the situation in the semiconductor manufacturers market was very different from today. En Seeking Alpha an analyst highlighted how in 2012 “Intel is the undisputed leader in manufacturing processes”, and according to sources it had an advantage of at least four years with its competitor. Guess what it was? Exact: TSMC. Apple, mentioned as a client of companies like Samsung, did not seem too relevant in this section although it would also end up being so.
The decision that Texas Instruments made, as they explained other analysts, it was no longer a surprise in 2012, when “IT’s wireless segment has been languishing for years.”
In 2008 had given up on the baseband processor market to give that space to Qualcomm, and that was certainly the beginning of the end for the OMAP family.
It is surprising how the company ended up throwing in the towel in a market that did not stop growing and that from very early on many recognized as disruptive.
Among those who saw it, by the way, were those responsible for Apple, which they took good advantage that Texas Instruments move: they ended up hiring engineers from their defunct division to work on their own family A chips. The bet, as it turned out, turned out well.