It seems Android’s explosive growth is still catching technologists by surprise, even these days. But this is something that you get to see only because of Android’s open source nature, and because of Moore’s Law, which in this case means that phone hardware is becoming cheaper by a large amount every year.
Wikipedia’s founder Jimmy Wales has realized that last year’s Huawei phone that cost $85 and was very popular in Africa, is now selling for only $50, and it should be $30-$35 next year. This changes the game completely for Africans, because they won’t have to buy the so called “dumbphones” anymore from Nokia and others, but instead they can get a real smartphone that can give them a lot of free apps and a much better browsing experience.
Next year, especially, I think will be a very important year for smartphone market disruption in poor developing markets, because smartphone makers will be able to use the even cheaper Cortex A7 CPU and Mali 450 GPU, that are designed to be very battery efficient (so manufacturers can use smaller batteries to lower cost), and in the same time are as powerful as high-end smartphones were only 2 years ago.
Cortex A7 is especially game-changing because it will finally help manufacturers and the Android ecosystem in general break free from the 12 year old ARMv6 architecture, that more and more developers are starting to ignore lately. One of the first to do so is actually Google, by not making Chrome work on ARMv6. And I don’t blame them. I think ARMv6 needs to be let go, and it’s one of the reasons I was disappointed Raspberry Pi was using an ARMv6 CPU, too. We’ve a little more than a year away from switching to the 64-bit ARMv8 architecture, and we haven’t even moved on from ARMv6. It’s time to let it die, and make it easier for developers to make better apps.
Cortex A7 will have about the same performance level as the old Cortex A8, but will be 10x smaller than the very first 65nm Cortex A8 chips, and about 5x smaller than the 45nm ones (like the one in the original Galaxy S). This tiny size (only 0.5 mm2) will make it so cheap that we might see these sub $50 smartphones use even dual core versions.
Next year we should also see Jelly Bean trickle down to these new low-end smartphones. Jelly Bean is Google’s fastest and smoothest version of Android yet, which means that it should work great with these chips. They won’t be Galaxy S4 one One X2-fast, but together they should provide a more than good enough smartphone experience, especially with a mass-market GPU such as Mali 450 that is supposed to be as powerful as the chip inside Galaxy S3.
The future certainly looks great for the low-end of the Android market, and it’s going to be amazing for people in poor countries who will be able to get such wonderful devices for so little money, as their first “computers”.