Application processor: All-in-one
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Yole Développement (Yole) announces a Q1-20 APU revenue above $7B; 2019 closed with total revenue of $31B…

With the rise of computing at the edge, the application processor market will see inflections, creating threats and opportunities across the ecosystem.

Which logic nodes are critical for application processors over the next 12-24 months? What are the price and cost trends within the multiple tiers of the smartphone market? How many 10nm/7nm/5nm/3nm wafer starts are needed to satisfy the demands of the application processor market for the next 5 years? Who will have the necessary capacity to deliver for OEMs?… The market research & strategy consulting company is unveiling today, within the Application Processor Quarterly Market Monitor, its Q1 2020 analysis.

For insight into the trends of the leading edge of logic foundry technology, one can look no further than the smartphone APU market. It is this sub-segment of semiconductor devices that tends to get the first offerings of the newest foundry process nodes and some of the newest computing elements like AI inference accelerators. The APU is the most promising computing hardware thanks to many qualities: particularly performance, size, and power consumption. At Yole, we think that APUs will spread everywhere in consumer applications, smart home devices and automotive.

Yole’s computing & software team proposes a large collection of reports and monitor to follow the industry and deliver a deep understanding of the latest innovations and business opportunities. Reports and AP monitor are intended to be complementary analyses of the same industry under the Yole computing & software research umbrella. More on i-Micronews.

What is happening in the smartphone Application Processor arena?

This year will see the first processors built with 5 nanometer foundry technology, bringing new APUs (Application Processor Units) from chip designers Apple and Hisilicon. TSMC’s 5nm process promises to bring more than 1.8 times the areal transistor density of the foundry’s 7nm process. Additionally, 5nm will have 15% faster speed (at same power) or 30% lower power (at same speed), as compared to 7nm.

“As these manufacturing innovations manifest in chip maker’s designs, at Yole, we will see a step up in computing capabilities and potentially a decrease in average die size on the first generation of 5nm APUs”, explains John Lorenz, Technology & Market Analyst, Computing & Software at Yole.

APUs outside of smartphones

Tablets, smartwatches…

Innovative processor technology is not just for smartphone processors, however. While smartphones are the tip of the spear in the process technology department, tablet and smartwatches are designed with at- or near-leading edge APUs. Tablet APUs tend to resemble, and even out-spec, their smartphone counterparts, but as tablet shipments are a fraction of smartphone shipments (and continue to wane), they do not always receive top-tier attention. Smartwatches are an area of increasing importance and functionality, with the Apple watch leading the pack. However, this is a segment with tighter geometric, power, and $ Bill-of-Materials (BOM) constraints, so there tends to be APUs of lesser compute capabilities while living on the highly mature low-power variants of N-1 or N-2 logic nodes (where ‘N’ is leading edge).

Corona Virus implications

What does the future hold?

One finds it impossible to write of today’s APU market without some thoughts on what the global impact of Corona Virus could mean. While it is impossible to know exactly what the near future holds, or when exactly the mechanisms of global and individual commerce will be set back into motion, Yole’s analysts can still discuss the impacts taking place today.

“On both the supply and demand side we see effects of our global pandemic; the whole semiconductor supply chain disrupted by travel and in-person working restrictions, while economic uncertainty delays consumers’ decisions to purchase new devices”, details John Lorenz from Yole. “The fact that the root causes of both supply and demand disruptions are the same may serve to limit the economic whiplash of S/D mismatch. However, it may take longer for the end consumer demand to restore than for the manufacturing supply chain to resume, pushing a “return-to-normal” into the 2nd half of 2020.”

What’s next?

The ghost of Moore’s Law

The industry continues to innovate towards cheaper and smaller devices. In the consumer APU space, at the macro level, Yole’s analysts really see die sizes getting smaller on the long run average, but they see more and more compute functionality added to processors. To understand the dynamic of this effect, the revenue generated in this space and place against the number of transistors integrated in the SoCs can be analyzed. The resulting trend is interesting for a couple of reasons:

  • 20% price declines per unit of compute, while not quite on the ‘half every 2 years’ pace, it is still a healthy regimen of progress that has led to the placement of AI inference in the palms of our hands
  • Looking ahead, expect this price decline to slow down to ~10% YoY, which will make for a shift in some designers’ tendencies. Some designing for the highest tiers of smartphones may choose to continue their historical rate of functional improvement between generations and thus live at the higher end of acceptable die size for their segment. Others designing for the mid and lower tiers of smartphones will have to slow their rate of generational progress to remain within their tighter constraints of $BOM and die size

Therefore, even if smartphone units are relatively flat over time, the smartphone APU TAM is showing an increase as the underlying silicon is increasing in $ per unit area due to the drive up in process complexity. 2019 saw just below $28 billion in smartphone APU designer revenue, which is expected to grow to $44 billion in 2025…

Yole’s Application Processor Quarterly Market Monitors will be published every beginning of March (Q1), June (Q2), September (Q3) and December (Q4). Aim of the Yole’s Computing & Software team is to give a closer look at the main markets and players. In addition to smartphones, tablet and smartwatch, Application Processor Quarterly Market Monitor will include smart speaker, AR/VR, smart TV and Ultralight PC within its Q2 edition and automotive infotainment and smart assistant with the Q3 version. Analysts invite you to follow Yole’s activities on i-Micronews, especially under this complex context due to the Covid-19 impact.

In addition, Yole’s team attends a selection of key conferences, trade shows and webcasts throughout the year. These onsite/online events provide opportunities for Yole’s experts to share their vision of the industry and debate with leading players.

As an example, here is the next online event powered by Yole: AI Computing for Automotive: Powering Autonomy – How technologies from smartphones help realize the dream of autonomous driving? Webcast on April 30 at 5.00 PM CET. Register today!

Analysts also proposed last year a relevant webcast dedicated to AI technologies for automotive applications. This online event “AI’s Impact on the Automotive Industry: Trends, Market, Players, and Future” is still available on Go the the dedicated page to register and watch it!

In addition Yole’s analysts perform valuable interviews with leading companies and articles on

  • The underestimated Google Pixel 4An article written by Yohann Tschudi, Technology & Market Analyst, and Guillaume Girardin Photonics & Sensing Division Director at Yole Développement
  • From data capture to advertisement on your favorite social network, understand how AI generates valueAn article written by Yohann Tschudi, Technology & Market Analyst at Yole Développement
  • Cloud gaming: Stakes, issues and opportunitiesAn interview with NVIDIA
  • Neuromorphic computing, a better solution for Artificial Intelligence?An interview with BrainChip

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