For major application processor manufacturers, 2012 is a year fraught with far more intense competition and challenges than any previous year. This is largely due to increased consumer performance requirements for mobile devices, the rapid increase in users in emerging markets, and the accelerating pace of development in terms of technology, architectures and price competition. Over the last year alone, greater advances in manufacturing processes and performance improvements for ARM architecture-based application processors (AP) have been made than in the last few years combined.
China-based manufacturers will catch up with mainstream AP architectures in the second half of 2012, with Cortex-A9 becoming the mainstream, augmented by a smaller proportion of chips using Cortex-A7 and Cortex-A5, while Cortex-A8 will gradually exit the market. In the fourth quarter, some China manufacturers will begin to ship quad-core products for use in smartphones and tablets.
Digitimes Research calculates that nearly 300 million smart devices (smartphones and tablets) will be shipped in China in 2012, with smartphones accounting for some 240 million of this figure, and tablets for the remainder. This represents growth of three to four times over the 2011 figures. However, the China market is entering a period of intense price reductions with many vendors launching sub-CNY199 smartphones; this could have an unhealthy impact on the market, even to the extent of hastening the demise of some manufacturers.