It's not directly related to SFF as it's not PC based, but I think many here can recognize that phones are in some ways the ultimate SFF PC. I wanted to share my thoughts on something I have been thinking about lately: I wanted to bring up the topic because it is heavily related to the Nintendo Switch (which I have been heavily involved with over the last 1.5 years) and I wanted to share my thoughts and see what others think. When I first joined my current company in 2014, I told several of my managers that we should expect an ARM powered console to break into the market by 2016. In order to describe such a device to those who were not familiar with chip architectures, I had to describe it as a “phone” – which immediately got the idea dismissed. Most of what I heard was: “It’s not powerful enough” or “Nobody wants to play free-to-play on console” In other words, people were stuck in the current mindset and couldn’t see that things can change, or that ARM didn’t have to be limited to low quality games on phones. Fast forward to 2016, and Nintendo announces the Switch. It wasn’t quite what I had expected in 2014, but it was definitely what the industry needed to wake up. I think the most shocking thing was that Nvidia had more or less pulled out of the Android ecosystem by this time, with only a few SOC’s being offered on Android devices (Pixel C and Shield TV). It seemed to me that Nvidia was throwing its chips and energy into Nintendo’s basket where they could have more influence or at least had a common focus and goal. For me it was a little bittersweet. I was happy to see an ARM console succeed but sad to see that the Switch had no LTE support, no microphone input, and a little sad to see a lack of camera. In otherwords, it could not be used as a phone or tablet, and as a result it was going to be an additional device to carry around not a replacement for others. I am not a Nintendo fan so while I can understand that many could have easily seen this coming, I did not and was a bit disappointed. In some ways, I feel this was a tragic setback for the Android ecosystem. The Shield devices were very unique, and served several purposes: · Increase awareness for high quality games on ARM · Encourage Android to create software features for gaming Nvidia’s departure from Android in both software and hardware both destroyed the leading force, but it may have also opened room for others to take over. In 2015 Acer announced the Predator gaming phone and tablet. It was perhaps a bit premature as the phone never saw release and the tablet was nearly as scarce. Interest in the device must have spurred other companies to follow suit, because in 2017 Razer announced their entry into the smartphone market with the gaming oriented Razer Phone. Shortly after, we now have the release of the Nubia Red Magic and Xiaomi Blackshark gaming phones. In addition, Motorola has the GamePad MOD for the Moto Z series of phones, available since 2016. It is clear that gaming phones are starting to take hold, and Asus is rumored to be launching an ROG branded phone later this year. In addition, controllers are starting to become prevalent as seen on the Blackshark and Moto GamePad MOD. With phone makers desperate to differentiate their products, it’s only a matter of time before other companies jump on the bandwagon. In the next year, I think it is likely that we will see not only more phone makers join in, but more gaming oriented features such as controllers, haptic feedback, larger batteries, high refresh rate screens. I would also be willing to take a wager that Qualcomm will announce gaming oriented SOC’s in the next year with higher GPU frequencies that can take advantage of larger/thicker size and better cooling. With the hardware starting to take off, the software remains somewhat of an unknown. Nvidia pushed heavily in this segment trying to encourage game companies to port their products to Android. The results were lackluster, however I can tell you that at least some companies did try in this area (either with Nvidia or on other ARM based consoles), but in the end the sales of those hardware devices was not enough to justify the production costs for the games. With Nintendo Switch succeeding, it presents an interesting situation. The Tegra X1 in the Switch is not a particularly powerful chip. Sure, on paper it looks impressive, but in an undocked mode you are looking at 307mhz on the GPU (the Shield TV is 3x more powerful) and for the CPU, 1000mhz on only 3 A57 cores can be used for the games. This is pretty lackluster compared to the Snapdragon 835 and 845. This means that we are now at a point where mid-range phones are at least powerful enough in theory to run games made for Nintendo Switch. Due to the similar architecture, companies can benefit by releasing games on both: split the R&D costs needed to convert games to run on ARM between both Android gaming phones and the Switch. We have already seen a lot of games converted to run on Android, whether it’s old GTA titles, World of Warships Blitz, or more recently PubG and Fortnite Mobile. Many companies are also porting older titles for Nintendo Switch, such as Doom and Skyrim. It’s clear that game companies see a market here and that market will continue to evolve. It will be interesting to see what Google’s response to this is. Consoles are dedicated devices and as a result have many advantages, such as in-game streaming, dedicated hardware controls, and comprehensive online support (ok maybe not on Switch), as a result they can standardize the games which run on them which in turn streamlines and optimizes them. However, phones have the advantage of rapid innovation. Adding some standardization to Android gaming phones could provide some of the benefits of consoles. To summarize, I think that while Android still needs a lot of work to become appealing to game developers for high quality games, it is now the bottleneck and will probably be receiving the most attention in coming years. I think that a list of what needs to be done can be easily identified: 1. Online API’s – expand Google Play Games to have friends list, invite system, streaming etc.. Perhaps 3rd parties could get involved? Steam on Android, or Ubisoft Club? The risk here is fragmentation, each company running off on their own. 2. Standardized control layouts – similar to what you get from consoles. This will depend alot on what happens with #1. 3. Change in attitude from Gamers and Game Developers – get away from the Free-To-Play mindset and start recognizing that you can get a console experience from a phone. #1 and #2 will probably help alot as it reduces the work of developers. 4. Dedicated game-store – help customers recognize what games are designed with these new features in mind and are standardized. Nvidia did this, I hope someone else can pick up on this. 5. (nice to have) Hardware improvements – docks like what the Switch has would be great, being able to plug your phone into a TV and use as Android TV with a Bluetooth controller. Some devices such as the Wonder Phone are already working on this. I think that Nvidia and Nintendo’s partnership has been in some ways a real blessing. Nvidia wasn’t getting much headway on Android and now that they have gone to Nintendo, they have shown what is possible using phone hardware. It was also a elephant in the room considering its gaming chops, and I think in some ways it could have deterred other companies from getting involved. However in other ways, it was also a driving force which had the capacity to push the market without customer demand. It's absence means that the focus now much more dependent on what the customers say and want, which is not always good (i'm looking at you, phones with 8GB RAM). However, if android software can rapidly advance in the gaming area, it could force Nintendo to update its hardware and software features to keep competitive and attractive for 3rd party developers. In either case, I think a new golden era of mobile gaming devices is upon us.