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Nvidia-based Microsoft smartphone coming?

Nvidia's Tegra chip will be used in an upcoming Microsoft smartphone, according to Broadpoint AmTech. Apple may also be a customer, the firm says.

Brooke Crothers Former CNET contributor
Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.
Brooke Crothers
3 min read

Updated at 5:45 p.m. PST with additional comments from Microsoft.

Nvidia's Tegra chip will be used in an upcoming Microsoft smartphone, according to an analyst at Broadpoint AmTech.

The San Francisco-based research firm also is speculating that Apple will eventually use the Nvidia ARM-based chip in a future iPhone.

Broadpoint's Doug Freedman said the Microsoft-branded phone would be the second Nvidia Tegra design win after HTC. "We believe the HTC ramp in '09 is the more material of the two as we have some concerns on the channel for Microsoft's handset distribution given the lack of prior carrier relationships/handset qualification history," he wrote Thursday.

Microsoft has been working with Nvidia on its Tegra chip platform.
Microsoft has been working with Nvidia on its Tegra chip platform. Shown here is an Nvidia Tegra APX-based prototype device. Nvidia

Though Freedman said that his research note is not based on mere speculation, "it could turn out to be...a reference design Microsoft has used. That could be possible," he said. "But we've also picked up that Microsoft is working on a phone themselves," he added.

Microsoft says otherwise. "Microsoft has no plans to make a phone," said Microsoft's director of Windows Mobile, Scott Rockfeld, in a statement. "Our core focus has been and will continue to be providing software plus services and working with our partners to deliver great phones. Our partners have been integral in our success to date, and we are excited about the innovation we are bringing to the market together."

"We continue to collaborate with Nvidia on the delivery of innovative solutions that move the smartphone industry and the consumer experience forward," he added.

Nvidia said it had no comment.

Freedman, however, said the phone could appear sometime in the next six months and said his information is coming from the "supply chain that's working on the release of the product." (Note: Other reports say the Microsoft phone is a reference design.)

Freedman believes that Tegra could add $100 million to Nvidia's results in the second half of the year, "which is reflected in our published estimates," he wrote.

Nvidia has made it clear in the past that the Tegra platform is targeted at Windows Mobile.

And what does Nvidia bring to the table? The master of faster graphics processors wants to apply its chip know-how to juice up the mobile Internet device market and the Windows Mobile interface. After a decade of pumping up PC performance, Nvidia is betting a big part of its future on boosting graphics performance in smartphones and fit-in-your-pocket mobile Internet devices, or MIDs.

iPhone-style devices with Nvidia's Tegra APX (or Tegra 600) incorporate most of the functionality of a PC. And Nvidia is building all of the core electronics that will run a mobile Internet device, not just the graphics component.

Tegra is different from Intel's Atom processor platform--which is offered as a processor and a separate chipset. Nvidia puts all major device functions onto one piece of silicon. This makes it more akin to Texas Instruments' OMAP processors or Qualcomm's Snapdragon.

Nvidia's goal is to pack as much processing punch as possible into a few-hundred-milliwatt power envelope. Notebook PC processors typically operate in power envelopes between 10 watts and 35 watts.

But to the user, the biggest difference will be Microsoft's Mobile Windows interface and what can happen when there's Nvidia GeForce graphics silicon pushing everything around.

The platform that Nvidia is demonstrating goes far beyond the staid, pin-striped Windows Mobile that is used today. Nvidia has been showing finger-flick-and-roll screens and accelerometer-based reorienting 720p video.