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Chinese fabless firm guns for specialised tablet markets

Posted: 10 Jun 2014  Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:tablet  MP3  fabless 

Actions Semiconductor established its work around MP3 players, but its CEO is gearing up China's fabless company for the white-box tablet market in Asia and elsewhere.

"We're kind of late for this market, I admit... When you're late to the market, you're always less known, so you need to have a sharper weapon and sharper price," CEO Zhenyu Zhou told us. "You also have less baggage on your shoulders."

Known for its MP3 chips—still a lucrative business for the fabless company—Actions began to target China's tablet market in earnest in 2012. As a latecomer to the game, it hopes to address specialised tablet markets that MediaTek, Apple, and Samsung are too big to target. "We have to differentiate ourselves from the likes of MediaTek by trying to address a specialised market segment like the educational market... something MediaTek isn't able to address. Another speciality market will evolve out of that—for example, restaurant tablets."

Actions has invested in a Chinese company that is testing an "electronic school bag," a tablet that connects to a school's cloud service, rather than the Internet. Zhou expects this idea to take off in China, though legal considerations surrounding education and security may slow acceptance in the United States.

To differentiate itself from the competition, Actions has released a set of multi-core chips targeting various market tiers. Zhou cited novel power management and mixed signal blocks that it designed in-house, and he said the company's main focus is expanding into RF and Bluetooth.

"We're really trying to bridge the gap between the companies who have channel capability and companies that have sourcing capability," he said. "One company doesn't have to do everything. A good thing about the white-box tablet market is it's still growing, but a lot of people are going towards it."

The company will continue to focus on Bluetooth speakers, video boom boxes, and MP3 players, though it has introduced three chip sets to serve several market tiers. Zhou said Actions is unique in using dual-core processors in entry level chips. "We're trying to accelerate migration to dual core while selling at the same price as dual core. I believe there won't be any single-core designs next year. Dual core will be basic for mobile devices pretty soon, and quad core will standard for the mainstream, [but] I think octa core is a little speculative at this point."

The entry-level 7021, aimed at markets such as India and Africa, has a dual-core processor comparable to ARM's Cortex A9, running at 1.3GHz with an Imagination PowerVR Series5 SGX GPU. The 7029b chip, a quad-core version, runs a Cortex A9 up to 1.2GHz with a slightly more powerful Imagination GPU.


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