NEW YORK (Reuters) - Texas Instruments Inc has unveiled new versions of its chips for advanced mobile features, including mini-projector technology it sees as the next big thing after the now ubiquitous cell phone camera.
The chip maker is eyeing growth in features such as mobile web surfing and video, even as the overall phone market shrinks. It expects the new projector chips -- unveiled on Monday at the Mobile World Congress showcase in Barcelona -- to be ready for customers later this year and in commercial products in 2010.
Samsung Electronics Co Ltd recently launched a phone, costing roughly $500, in South Korea using the first version of TI's pico-projector technology that beams video or photographs from a phone to any surface. Samsung also plans to sell a similar device in Europe but has not released pricing.
TI said interest in its first pico chip was so strong, it has invested heavily an upgraded version that is 20 percent smaller, but can support brighter image projections with twice the picture resolution and more power efficiency than phones and dedicated mini-projectors with its current chips.
We believe very strongly that it's the start of a new world that transforms business and social interactions. said Frank Moizio, emerging business manager for TI's Digital Light Projection (DLP) unit.
For example he said executives could quickly beam a presentation slide from their phone onto the tablecloth during a dinner meeting, or consumers could use projector phones to easily share photos or video with a group of friends, or in an emergency they could use the projector as a flashlight.
It's been requested of us by mobile phone companies and consumer electronics companies all over the world, said Moizio, who added that pico-projectors may be even more popular than cell phone cameras, which grew from 4 million shipments in 2001 to more than 700 million in 2007.
We see no reason for this not to follow a path similar to the camera phone, he said.
Greg Delagi, head of TI's wireless business, declined to
discuss which companies planned to use the new product, but said he had discussions with the biggest phone makers.
SMARTPHONE BRIGHT SPOT
At the show, Delagi also plans to announce the next version of TI's OMAP application chip range, which analysts said could keep it ahead of arch-rival Qualcomm Inc.
In comparison to today's most popular advanced phones, which include the Apple Inc's iPhone and BlackBerry phones from Research In Motion Ltd, TI said the OMAP 4 will be able to download Web pages 10 times faster.
It said the chipset, which will be available for phone makers to test in late 2009 and ready for production in the second half of 2010, will also support six times higher video resolution, 10 times better graphics performance and six times longer audio play time.
The chip has three times better computing performance than its own OMAP 3 chip, which is now being built into phones and devices such as mobile media players. It will also improve on the audio playtime and browsing speed of OMAP 3, TI said.
While TI now trails Qualcomm in baseband chips, the brains of the phone, it is ahead in application chips, the wireless market in which it is now investing most heavily.
One key win for OMAP 3 includes it support of the high profile Pre. Palm Inc's Pre is set to launch in the first half of this year and is widely anticipated as one of the best iPhone competitors.
Forward Concepts analyst Will Strauss said it makes sense for TI to bring out the next generation of OMAP chips already as it will face increasingly stiff competition from Qualcomm.
(TI's) ahead of everybody in high-end application chips, but Qualcomm is breathing down their necks, said Strauss.
Qualcomm's Snapdragon application chips are used in a Toshiba Machine Co Ltd phone introduced in February and are expected to appear in more products in the coming months.
Strauss estimated that, even with the weak economy, the market for smartphones, which use application chips, would remain strong. He expects smartphones to grow about 13 percent this year, even as the overall cell phone market decline.
Nokia, TI's biggest customer has said the overall market would decline 10 percent this year, but some analysts see a drop-off closer to 15 percent.
Delagi said that, even though the overall industry is in chaos as a maturing market coincides with a dismal economy, he sees bright prospects for chips that support new features.
The growth rates are slowing and its all about the upgrade market. What drives you and I to buy a phone is some sexy new capability which is where TI chips are used, he added.
(Editing by Andre Grenon)