Today we had the opportunity to sit down with NVIDIA CEO Jen-Hsun Huang, continuing our Android Insiders series from last year’s CES. Our time was limited, but we got to discuss the latest news surrounding the mobile industry, the next-generation of Tegra, NVIDIA’s possible entry into the connected TV market, Android updates, and Jen-Hsun’s favorite Android device. Check out the full interview below and let NVIDIA know how much you appreciate them taking the time to sit down and talk with the Android community.
Update: Now with full transcript below.
Taylor: I’m here at CES2012. We’re with Jen-Hsun Huang, CEO of NVIDIA. We’re here today to talk about all the latest NVIDIA news, especially what’s going on with their Tegra family of products. Just last year we sat down at CES, and you were just rolling out Tegra 2. We were seeing the first products come on to market. Looking back at last year, how do you think your Tegra business did? Are you satisfied with the progress that you’ve made so far?
Jen-Hsun: Well, as the CEO, I should always expect and always hope to have more progress, but we did great. Last year, we learned a lot about Android. We developed the Honeycomb operating system with Google, and we developed a whole lot of smartphones with Gingerbread and tablets with Honeycomb. We also, of course, introduced Tegra 3, and brought the world’s first dual-core to market. Now we’ve got the world’s first quad-core to market. And we surprised the world with a few more features in Tegra 3 that [are] designed to enhance performance while conserving energy. The technology for quad-core, as a surprise, turned out to be a fifth core. And the fifth core is there to deliver very, very efficient energy consumption while the quad-core can deliver that performance, so you get the best of both worlds. We introduced a technology called Prism, where we separated the color from the intensity of the backlight, and we can modulate the two of them separately, and by adjusting the pixel color for every single pixel and every single frame and doing the same thing for the backlight intensity, we could dramatically reduce the energy consumed by the display, which is the vast majority of our tablet power we run because the display is so bright, and we want it to be bright. That technology is called Prism. Yesterday, we announced a new technology in Tegra 3 called Direct Touch. By bypassing all the other chips and doing the touch processing on our little hybrid fifth core, which is already ten times the performance of any of these controllers, we can keep the sample rate over three times that of the best touch controllers. So, with a better sample rate, we can have better precision. There’s better responsiveness and so forth. So, Tegra 3 was a big thrill last year. Then at the show, one year later, we introduced — at this point we’ve announced a brand new processor, three new technologies, we went into production with Ice Cream Sandwich, and we announced both our Transformer class tablet, for people who like to have it all — a great tablet or a great notebook. And yesterday we announced the world’s first $249 quad-core tablet running Ice Cream Sandwich. So, that’s a lot of progress in a year. Not to mention all the Windows stuff.
Taylor: Now, last year, I know that you all had acquired Icera . Can we talk about how that plays into your strategy this year? And also, speaking to 2012, what do you see as the real opportunities for growth this year?
Jen-Hsun: Well, last year we spent a lot of time trying to figure out how to add value to the iPad and how to position around the iPad. The iPad is a great device. You know, it’s the fastest growing consumer electronics device in history, as you guys all know. Faster growing than smartphones. Faster growing than netbooks, than anything. MP3 players. It is the world’s fastest growing digital device. And so it’s a fabulous product. Now the question is how do we innovate around it? We know that there’s all kinds of opportunities to innovate around it, because one size doesn’t fit all. And so last year, we stumbled around what’s the right price point. And it’s now pretty clear that, with Fire and Nook selling like gangbusters — right? — just like gangbusters at $199 and $249, that if we could figure out a way to get a great tablet with Ice Cream Sandwich and quad-core down to that price range, we could allow consumers to have a flexible tablet — a rich tablet — and also a great price point. So, I think we’ve found the price point. I think this year, we’re going to see quite exciting growth at the $249 segment and at the $299 segment as we bring these great devices to market. Smartphones. This isn’t really the show for smartphones. Mobile World Congress is the show for smartphones. In the United States, LTE is important. Outside the United States, quad-core is the next major upgrade. So, in Europe, Latin America, China, quad-core is the next major upgrade. So, we’re exciting about all the phones that we’re in, and this year should be the year of quad-core phones.
Taylor: Another product category I wanted to ask you about. We’ve seen Google move their Google TV platform over to ARM. Samsung’s been talking about a lot about smart TVs. So, is that an area we’re going to see you try and enter this year?
Jen-Hsun: Well, we don’t have anything to announce at the moment. I think the smart TV and the connected TV market is still developing. And I think there’s quite a few things that it needs to get sorted out. I’m very enthusiastic about it. I think that the television is going to be a very large platform for our visual computing processors. So, we surely will participate in it. This year I think is a little bit too early to get in. The market that we’re really excited about is putting mobile processors in cars. Cars, connected cars and smart cars are going to be the next major consumer electronics marketplace, and I think Android is going to play a large role in that. I really, fully expect to see a lot of Android operating system cars, so they can be connected to all the great services that are available through applications via Google and others.
Taylor: Something else I want to talk about. One big advantage that we’ve seen with NVIDIA is just the cadence and how fast you’re rolling out these new controller processors. Last year you showed us the road map, talking about Wayne, Stark, and Logan. Do you know when we’re going to start hearing more about these? About the next generation of Tegra?
Jen-Hsun: Well, you start your question by saying that we have a really fast cadence. And you’re ending your question by asking me how much faster can it get.
Jen-Hsun: (laughs) Well. (laughs) You know, our basic rhythm is you should expect a new processor from us in the segments that we serve — a new processor each year. As we go forward, Icera for example, we’re building integrated Icera processors, and you shouldn’t be surprised to see a next generation type of processor integrated with LTE modem. You shouldn’t be surprised to see, you know, over the course of this year, surely, Icera modems coming into tablets. You shouldn’t be surprised to see Tegra phones with 3G Icera modems in smartphones, etc. So we’re gonna try to continue to add value to the segments we’ve chosen, which are the smartphone and superphone segments, the tablets and the notebook segments. And so, these three segments of mobile computing, we’re going to have a new product every single year.
Taylor: One of the other big differentiaters for NVIDIA and Tegra is your premium content strategy with Tegra Zone, where you’re highlighting all these premium games. Can you talk a little bit about what NVIDIA’s doing for other applications that are not games? How are you helping developers take full advantage of developing for mult-threaded applications that can really take full advantage of this Tegra 3 processor?
Jen-Hsun: Well, when we built these processors, the first question that people usually ask us is, “Why do we need so much performance?” When Tegra 3 first came out, it was, “Why do you need so much GPU performance?” “Why do you need quad-core performance?” The competition fields some of that. They tell people that the applications simply aren’t ready. Well, if the applications aren’t ready, you have to build a processor that inspires the applications to be ready. I mean, it’s a little bit of the chicken and the egg. And so, yesterday, we demonstrated the top selling application on the iPad running on Tegra. And the reason why they needed Tegra is because they needed a lot of the GPU horsepower to do the image processing that Snapseed does in real time. So, just by simply touching your display, you’re doing PhotoShop-quality image processing and photo editing, and it’s completely wonderful. You can’t do that without GPU performance. That’s one example. We also demonstrated yesterday Splashtop. The ability to be able to stream a full-powered, PC capable right into your tablet, and enjoy your PC right on your tablet as interactively as if you were just sitting right in front of it. That capability isn’t possible without the quad-cores and without the great GPUs and without the other processors that we have on the chip. And so, we need to develop the technology to inspire content developers and applications developers to create these amazing applications. Yesterday we showed a lot of really great stuff.
Taylor: The third real strength that I’ve seen with NVIDIA is your speed of software updates for Android tablets. That’s great for the tablets, but could you talk a little bit about some of the hurdles and maybe how you’re working with Google and the carriers to try and deliver that same, you know, same type of speed of updates to the smartphone? It seems we always have to wait six months, etc. on smartphones. What, really, are you doing to try to fix that?
Jen-Hsun: Well, the first… That’s really a good point. If you look at the nature of our company, we are a computer technology company at its core. And, as a computer technology company, with our core focusing on visual computing, operating system support and API support and [BSP] and device drivers and APIs and all that stuff — all that system middleware it’s complicated, but its our expertise. That’s what we do for a living, because we’re a computer technology company. We have more software engineers than just about any application processor company in the world. This is our focus. And so the — you mentioned, and I appreciate you recognizing that we were the first to Honeycomb, and we were the first, again, to Ice Cream Sandwich. Even though a lot of people said we weren’t working closely with Google on Ice Cream Sandwich, how was it possible that we announced it so quickly? Well, first of all, we do work very closely with Google. They’re a great team to work with. Secondarily, we have such a great team inside our company working on all these Android builds. Of course on tablets, because the OTA are done through WiFi, it is easier to get to the consumer with the latest build. And so, our focus is to shrink our latency. The moment that Google goes public with a particular version of Android, our challenge is to be able to deliver our version running on Tegra 3, fully optimized one day later. That would be what we’d call “speed of light” for us. Now, by reducing that — we’ve already reduced that from several months. For most people in the industry, that runs somewhere for four to six months. We’ve reduced it down to about three to four weeks. And so, if it wasn’t because of the holidays, who knows? It could have been two to three weeks. So, we’ve reduced it. We’ve pulled it in by about five months. Now, for mobile devices, we still have to work with the handset makers, integrate it with their BSP, and we also have to work with the carriers to get it out. But, you know, of course the goal is to deliver a really, really great Android release as soon as possible that, ideally, is top of the podium.
Taylor: Okay. Wrapping up here. I know we’re short on time. As the final question, some of our fans at home — we know you’re a huge fan of Android. Can you tell us, just like, what are some of your favorite Android devices? What do you use personally?
Jen-Hsun: Well, the single most popular device for me, the device I use the most — my personal favorite computer is the Transformer Prime. I use it all day long. I use it — it’s the first computer I turn on in the morning. Of course, it doesn’t need to be turned on; it’s on. And all my news is already aggregated and updated. I turn on Pulse. I use Google Currents and I catch up on my news. It takes about 45 minutes while I’m drinking a cup of coffee, and I capture technology news, the economy, politics — you name it. So, the industry business, everything, all in one shot. Throughout the day, I can use it for email. And with email running on my Transformer Prime, the battery never drains. From morning to night, I can barely see the battery change. And I think I’m just so happy with the Prism technology. I’m so happy with our quad-core — that it’s doing a great job conserving energy, and it’s just a wonderful device. When I get home, I disconnect it from the keyboard. I sit on the couch and chit chat with my wife, catch up on the day’s news and do a little bit of email on the side.
Taylor: Thank you very much for you time.