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Mobile microchip technology plays a major role in the future

Mobile devices are nothing without powerful chips. Advances in the semiconductor industry will be critical to pushing smartphone innovation forward.

First gaining steam in the mid-20th century, semiconductors and microchips have been around far longer than the mobile devices they power today. Their history includes formidable partnerships, innovations and key changes in direction. Daniel Nenni, founder of SemiWiki.com, a website forum for semiconductor professionals, explores that backstory in his recent book, Mobile Unleashed: The Origin and Evolution of ARM Processors in Our Devices.

Here, Nenni discusses the role of major players in mobile, how chip systems and mobility go hand in hand, and what the future of processing power looks like.

What does modern mobility mean to you?

Nenni: Right now, it is an always-on situation. I have four children -- four Millennials -- and I see how their mobility is. It is on 24/7. It is a critical part of our life.

What was your reason for writing a book like this?

Nenni: What we wanted to do is find out, when did this mobile stuff start? Because mobility is driving the semiconductor industry now; that's where the majority of the business is and the majority of the innovation is. Mobility people are pushing the edge of technology very fast. You buy a TV or computer maybe every five or 10 years, but Apple comes out with a new phone every year, and semiconductor technology has to meet [that] cadence. It's daunting.

Daniel NenniDaniel Nenni

Who were the big mobile companies in the past and who will be in the future?

Nenni: Qualcomm really invented this industry of the [systems-on-a-chip (SOCs)] that fit inside our smartphones. In parallel, Apple developed their own chips. What's happened lately is, more systems companies are creating their own chips. Samsung now creates their own SOC. Huawei creates their own now. The reason why they do that is, it's a fiercely competitive business and they have to be able to add some value.

Are there more device manufacturers like Huawei that will crop up in the U.S.?

Nenni: Yes, and it really starts with people assembling components to build their own phone, and then they realize they need to control their own supply chain. I saw [Apple] transform from a computer company to not only the leading mobility company but also one of the largest and most influential fabless semiconductor companies. They did that by acquiring small companies. What you're going to see is, Google is doing the same, Amazon is doing the same.

What are the next smartphone innovations?

Nenni: The next smartphones actually will be wireless in charging and in headsets. What you're going to see is smarter smartphones. The chips are becoming much more powerful, and you're going to see five, 10, 20, 100 times more processing power. Today's smartphone has more computing power than NASA had when we sent people to the moon. The smarter your phones are, the more capable software you can have. When you look at what performance increases you're going to see in the chips inside the phone, really anything is possible.

Today's smartphone has more computing power than NASA had when we sent people to the moon.

Where do wearable devices fit in?

Nenni: The key to wearables is health and wellness. So as we develop health and wellness capabilities for these wearables, they will be more prevalent. Fitbit is an example, but it doesn't really give you a huge amount of health and wellness information. There is so much more. I was at a conference, and one company thinks that they can let people know before they have a heart attack. I would buy a wearable if I could get a little bit of heads up there.

What's your favorite movie?

Nenni: Caddyshack. I grew up in that period. I married my college sweetheart, and … her favorite is The Sound of Music, so that kind of tells you we're a little bit opposite, right?

What is the best dish you can cook?

Nenni: I can cook just about anything Italian. My wife's favorite is tortellini Alfredo. But unfortunately now we're a little bit older, so we kind of have to do the low-fat, low-calorie Alfredo sauce.

If you could travel anywhere in the world right now, where would you go?

Nenni: I've been to every state in the United States with the exception of one, and that's Alaska, but my wife and I have just booked a cruise to Alaska, so I'm going to realize that dream.

Listen to the full interview on the Modern Mobility Podcast.

This article originally appeared in the April issue of the Modern Mobility e-zine.

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