It may be losing ground in the smartphone wars but Samsung is about to throw itself into the world of smart gadgets with a new series of chips that could help power the future Internet of Things.
Samsung is set to announce a series of chips as powerful as full-fledged computers to power a growing web of connected, everyday objects from wearable devices to smart clothes and smart appliances. The Artik hardware platform will be a diverse system-on-a-chip series that integrates the most popular radio frequency standards on a single component, Forbes has learned, making it easier for hardware developers to create gadgets that talk with other gadgets.
Samsung is expected to give full details on the new platform when Young Sohn, chief strategy officer of Samsung Electronics takes to the stage Tuesday morning at Internet of Things World in San Francisco t0 disclose a variety of partners.
Samsung has officially said that Sohn will “reveal a major company milestone that will enable the new wave of groundbreaking Internet of Things devices and services.”
A system on a chip (or SoC) integrates all the key components of a mobile computer onto a single chip, including memory, sensors, accelerometer and gyroscope, and crucially, radio frequency functions.
Samsung’s best-known system-on-a-chip is the Exynos, a powerful ARM-based chip found primarily in Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones. An earlier SoC from Samsung also powered Apple’s first iPhone in 2007.
The Artik SoC is different because it’s aimed at a range of hardware developers both large and small, not just big clients like Apple or Samsung’s own mobile division.
Samsung has previously pledged to make all of its electronic gadgets and appliances connected by 2020, and the Artik system on a chip series will play a key role in making that happen.
The Artik platform will include a series of SoC’s named numerically, starting with the Artik 1, according to a source with knowledge of Samsung’s plans.
The Artik 1 has relatively basic functionality, but still includes the most popular radio frequency standards including Wi-Fi, BLE, Zigbee, RFID and bluetooth all on one chip, along with memory and a 9-axis sensor path. It measures at 11.5 by 12.5 millimetres, or about half the size of a thumbnail.
The more power-hungry Artik 6 SoC is a full computer on a chip. About the same size as an SD card it includes a 1.8 Ghz processor and 16 GB of RAM, along with the usual range of sensors and radio frequency functions, the source said.
Samsung is betting its comprehensive SoC will be attractive to hardware developers because buying it off the shelf from Samsung is far easier than bringing together and optimizing four or five different components, such as a bluetooth chip, sensor pack, and memory and encryption component, onto a circuit board.
It also means developers can iterate on hardware changes almost as quickly as they could on software.
This points to arguably one of the more exciting prospects for the future of the Internet of Things: a large portion of the estimated 50 billion connected devices that will be around by 2020 won’t have been made by major manufacturers, but by startups and hardware enthusiasts who can readily buy components like Artik off the shelf.
It’s unclear how much the Artik chips will cost after launch, but the prospect of replacing multiple chips with one suggests it could help bring down the cost of developing a smart gadget.
Intel and Texas Instruments have their own versions of a system on a chip, but those who have seen Samsung’s Artik platform point out it is specially catered to wearables and smart home devices.
The platform is also unusually open, accessible to both large hardware manufacturers and small-fry hardware hackers who might be building on an open-source physical computing platform like Arduino.
Samsung’s Artik is reminiscent of Edison, a tiny computer that Intel launched in early 2014 to act as a development system for wearable gadgets. The Edison board also included its own system on a chip called the Intel Atom Tangier.
Samsung’s drive into the world of the Internet of Things comes as its fortunes in the cut-throat smartphone market have waned over the last year or so. New figures showed that Samsung’s market share in China more than halved in the first quarter of this year while Apple’s rose by more than 50%.
Yet while Samsung’s profits fell 20% in the first quarter, weighed down by its mobile division, earnings at its semiconductor unit rose 50%. Samsung’s hope for the future now lies in building components for competitors like Apple, and for a wide range of other hardware companies.
Last month the company won back a contract from Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company to build Apple’s A9 processor chips for forthcoming iPhones and iPads, according to a Bloomberg report.
More recently, Samsung announced it was investing $14 billion to build a complex the size of 400 football fields in Pyeongtaek, to manufacture semiconductors.