When we talk about “chips”, some immediately think of the Central Processor (or CPU). Today, the “chip” is so much more than that. Often times it’s more than a single discreet chip, which we used to call a “chipset”. Today, it’s more accurately described as a system on a chip (or SoC). You’re familiar with the Tegra from NVIDIA, the Snapdragon from Qualcomm, Intel’s Atom, and others. Now Google has gotten in the game (sort of), with its own Motorola X8 SoC.
Like we’ve said in the past, the Motorola X8 is a dual-core central processor clocked at 1.7 GHz with a quad-core graphics processor, each running at 400 MHz. What sets the X8 apart from others is a pair of “specialty cores”: one for “language processing”, and another for “contextual computing”.
At its core, the Motorola X8 is essentially a Snapdragon S4 Pro, which might sound a little bit “dated”. After all, I want the Snapdragon 800 in my next phone. Motorola went a bit beyond the “basics” with its implementation of the S4 Pro.
“We’ve done additional optimizations … such as optimizing the entire Linux user space to move it to an ARM instruction set, cache optimization, Dalvik just-in-time optimization, and we’ve changed the file system. It’s full hardware-software integration to deliver best-in-class performance.” — Iqbal Arshad, Senior Vice President of Engineering, Motorola
Optimization is great, but Motorola went beyond that — way beyond.
Those two “specialty cores” aren’t just run-of-the-mill CPUs, they’re dedicated signal processors. What’s more, they’re not physically part of the main SoC — in theory they could be added to any other SoC, even a Snapdragon 800 or Tegra 4. But what do they do?
Specialty Core #1
One of those two “specialty cores” can function like a low-power CPU — very low power. The goal, according to Arshad, was to move away from the traditional CPU-based architecture to something more distributed. Distinct chips can do very specialized things, which not only helps to save power, it also enables “intelligent, probabilistic computing”.
This “contextual computing processor” (CCP) specializes in computing “contextual” data — information from an array of sensors in your device — which enables “intelligent mobile computing” while being “always on”. And it does it without sucking your battery dry.
The CCP knows when your smartphone or tablet is in your pocket, bag, or even if it’s face down. With this information at-hand, the device doesn’t lights up any pixels until you’re ready to look at it. Smart.
Specialty Core #2
The second “specialty core” is a natural language processor (L-NLP). The L-NLP is a proprietary, low-power processor that’s been specialized with audio sensors, noise estimators, noise cancellation, and even speech recognition technology. This enables your device to have always-on, voice-based user interaction ready and waiting — again, without sacrificing battery life. Just say “OK Google Now”, followed by a phrase, and your phone will handle your request. You don’t have to launch Google Now. You don’t even have to have your screen on, just say that phrase and ask for whatever you want: traffic information, the current score of your favorite team, what the weather’s going to be, calling and messaging, and even a reminder to pick up milk on the way home.
In short, your device is always on, and always standing-by to do whatever you ask of it. Imagine the time-savings!
This is it, folks. This is the game changer. Once this concept is adopted across more OEMs than just Motorola (and it will, it’s just a matter of time), Android is going to explode. This will change the way you interact with your mobile device — and the way it interacts with you.
No longer will you have to turn your screen on to use it. Now it will do what you need to, whether the screen is on or off. It will cut down on the amount of time and effort that you put in to accomplishing the most common tasks that you perform on your phone or tablet.
It’s coming. We’ve seen it in Google Glass, now we’re seeing the same concepts in Android-proper. Apple and Microsoft don’t have anything anywhere close to this (not that we know of anyway). Sure, Apple is bringing Siri closer to the “front” of its OS in version 7, but it’s still not as close as Google Now — and nowhere near as ready to respond as Motorola is making it with their X8.
Yes, Motorola’s X8 is the future of Android, but more than that, the way it unleashes the potential of the little computers in our pockets is the future of mobile computing. Others will either try and keep up, or they’ll become irrelevant — quickly.