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Mobile Phone Design

Mobile Application Trends and the Impact on Mobile Platforms
by Aashoo Kukreja, ST-Ericsson India Pvt. Ltd


The mobile application space is exploding. Users increasingly turn to smartphones and tablets to consume and create content, whether on the go or on the couch. As a result, today's wireless mobile devices offer a wealth of applications. Gaming, Internet browsing and video playback and recording of CD-quality audio are considered commodities. In addition, current mobile phones offer multiple radio transceivers such as FM, GPS, Bluetooth and WLAN.

Major application stores such as Apple's iOS App Store and Google Play have collections in the hundreds of thousands of apps. You can find latest graphs at appbrain (www.appbrain.com/stats/number-of-android-apps) that shows Android apps in the market today and the pace at which they are rapidly increasing.

The mobile application world continues to expand at a breakneck pace. By 2015, market research firm In-Stat expects app downloads to come close to eclipsing 48 billion [1] and today apps account for 4 in every 5 US-mobile-media minutes. [2]

In the beginning the apps were taking advantage of capabilities available inside a mobile phone but now applications are dictating the required capabilities of the mobile platform solutions. The coming sections will elaborate on how some trends we see in applications today will impact the next generation mobile platform architectures.


The current trend of the apps that are being downloaded by the users can be grouped in the following categories: [5]

  • Entertainment
  • Personalization
  • Books & Reference
  • Tools
  • Lifestyle
  • Education
  • Travel & Local
  • Music & Audio
  • Business
  • Sports
  • News & Magazines
  • Productivity
  • Social
  • Health & Fitness
  • Communication
  • Finance
  • Media & Video
  • Shopping
  • Photography
  • Medical
  • Transportation
  • Comics
  • Libraries & Demo
  • Weather

The above list is sorted based on the total number of apps available . The appbrain provides more statstical data on this at url www.appbrain.com/stats/android-market-app-categories

Games continue to be the most popular category of apps for both feature phone and smartphone users alike. But, while all categories of applications are more popular on smartphones than on feature phones, the difference is more pronounced in categories such as maps/navigation, where more computing power, larger screens and touch interfaces deliver a more satisfying experience. [6]

Designing a mobile platform that can successfully incorporate all of these applications as well as the next generation of applications - which will incorporate features such as HD video, high-fidelity audio, digital SLR-like imaging and augmented reality- is a challenge.


With so many new smartphones coming into the market, apps play a major role in complementing the overall mobile platform architecture. A way to break down the challenges these apps provide to a mobile platform is to simply categorize the apps being downloaded in terms of the platform architecture needs. The areas that come out of this analysis give insights into use cases that are evolving but also a hint of the kind of architecture that a mobile platform solution should be built on.

App Trends Platform Architecture Needs
Gaming & Video Apps Powerful graphics processing, touch responsiveness
Productivity Apps High performance MPUs, cross platform portability
Cloud Centric Apps Low latency data sharing, web-connectivity
Social Networking Apps Fast transcoding of videos and pictures
Object Recognition Applications High-end image processing
Context Aware Applications Artificial intelligence
Multi Party Conferencing Applications Video parallelism
Mobile Commerce Applications High data security

So next generation mobile platform solutions have to be architected in such a way they will provide a very good user-experience, both with the apps currently in use and with the hundreds of thousands of apps being developed every day.


In order to meet the challenges of these use cases, to engineer the mobile platforms for the next generation of wireless devices, the platform must be architected at system level, not just at chip level. Actually, this is the way design is made already today, but it has to be further refined.

Examples of design aspects that need to be considered are:

1. CPU and GPU processing capabilities are at the heart of every intelligent device. The increasing demands that we are placing on mobile devices have brought about the necessity for more powerful processing. Multi-core CPUs as well as multi-core 2D/3D graphics accelerators in the application processor are needed. Future computing architectures will require hybrid systems combining Heterogeneous Multi Processing and multi-core architecture.

2. Cellular and short range wireless (Wi-Fi, Bluetooth) capabilities create the "connected device" and building on this we have Intelligent apps that collect data via the network, the recent uptake of cloud services and connected applications like gaming and "live" presence that provide a great challenge to the mobile platform network architecture.

3. Visual capabilities become more and more important for consumers as the smartphones are trying to fully replace digital cameras. This calls for higher processing power and high quality algorithms to handle various aspects of image processing such as HDR and WDR processing, high density pixel processing, gesture processing, TOF and HDR Sensors. For applications like video conferencing simultaneous parallel encoding and decoding for are essential. The multi-core architecture-based system has to provide adequate processing capacity for image processing and video acceleration, feature recognition and tracking algorithms.

4. Artificial Intelligence (AI) will find its way into the smartest of all smart devices. Recent revolutionary advancements in apps have shown that a more intuitive, engaging and captivating user interface will not only improve the effectiveness of the system, but also boost the productivity of users. Initially, this will incorporate a fusion of sensor information across camera, sensor networks (gyro, accelerometer, etc) and speech, emphasizing the need for an AI and Object recognition engine.

5. High end data security on video and imaging streaming services as well as secure access to cloud services and multi-OS content sharing needs to be built into the system architecture.

6. Battery life, the obvious but ever so important aspect of a mobile platform. All this processing power comes at a price and serious efforts are needed to make the mobile platforms even more power efficient.

These are some of the most critical aspects. Bringing these design aspects together, an assumption is that the next generation mobile platform architecture will have to comprise, if not as discrete architectural building blocks, at least serious improvements in areas of MPU (microprocessor), GPU (graphic processor), display processing unit, video streaming accelerators, speech processing, image and vision processing, sensors processing units, low latency cloud and network processor intefaces, advanced navigation systems interface, optimized low latency storage, advanced security and firewalls, and power and thermal management systems (shown in picture below).

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Seeing the level of complexity each of these building blocks imposes on the design, it becomes clear that the level of system integration also will play a significant role in the design effort. The more integrated the system on both hardware and software level, the better the platform will be in terms of performance, size, cost and power consumption.

In our view the most competitive mobile platforms will be ModAp solutions, combining cellular Modem, Application processor and a multitude of intelligent hardware engines/accelerators in one chip, by this not only fulfilling the requirements from the app use cases, but also squeezing the size, shortening the signal paths and lowering the battery consumption. These are the kinds of solutions that ST-Ericsson delivers with our NovaThor™ Modap platforms for smartphones and tablets.

This is of course just a very high level indication of how the mobile platform architecture will evolve. What is clear is that systematic end user application trend studies will become even more crucial when defining the next generation processor architecture.






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