Chip “Bottom Technology Competition” Of Large Domestic Mobile Phone Manufacturers

With the competition of large mobile phone manufacturers entering the deep-water area, the technical capacity is constantly approaching or even expanding to the bottom chip capacity, which has become an inevitable direction.


Recently, vivo announced that its first self-developed ISP (image signal processor) chip V1 will be mounted on vivo X70 flagship series, and explained its thinking on chip business exploration. In the video track, a key factor affecting mobile phone purchase, OVM has long been promoted by R & D. Although OPPO has not been officially announced, the relevant information can be basically confirmed. XiaoMi started the research and development progress of ISP and even SOC (system level chip) earlier.


In 2019, OPPO officially announced that it would vigorously invest in the research and development of a number of future technical capabilities including the underlying capabilities. At that time, Liu Chang, President of OPPO Research Institute, told the 21st Century Business Herald that OPPO already had self-developed chips at the level of power management to support the landing of fast charging technology, and the understanding of chip capabilities has become an increasingly important capability of terminal manufacturers.


These all mean that the underlying capacity-building for the core pain point scenario has become the necessity for the development of large mobile phone manufacturers. However, there may still be some differences on whether to enter SOC. Of course, this is also an area with a high threshold for entry. If you are determined to enter, it will also take years of exploration and accumulation.

                                                             Debate on self research ability of video track

At present, the increasingly homogeneous competition among mobile phone manufacturers has become an inevitable trend, which not only affects the continuous extension of the replacement cycle, but also urges manufacturers to continuously extend the technical context upward and outward.


Among them, image is an inseparable field. Over the years, mobile phone manufacturers have always been looking for a state that can achieve imaging capability closer to SLR cameras, but smart phones emphasize lightness and thinness, and the requirements for components are very complex, which of course can not be easily completed.


Therefore, mobile phone manufacturers first started to cooperate with major global imaging or lens giants, and then explore cooperation in imaging effects, color capabilities and other software. In recent years, with the further improvement of requirements, this cooperation has gradually spread to the hardware, and even entered the bottom chip R & D stage.


In the early years, SOC had its own ISP function. However, with the increasing demand of consumers for the computing power of mobile phones, the independent operation of key performance will better improve the ability of mobile phones in this field. Therefore, customized chips become the final solution.


Only from the information publicly available in history, among the major mobile phone manufacturers, Huawei’s self-research in many fields was the first, and then Xiaomi, vivo and OPPO were launched one after another. Since then, the four domestic head manufacturers have gathered in terms of chip self-development ability in image processing capability.


Since this year, the flagship models released by Xiaomi and vivo have been equipped with ISP chips developed by the company. It is reported that Xiaomi began to invest in the research and development of ISP in 2019, which is known as the key to open the digital world in the future. Vivo’s first self-developed professional image chip V1 complete project lasted 24 months and invested more than 300 people in the R & D team. It has the characteristics of high computing power, low delay and low power consumption.


Of course, it’s not just chips. Intelligent terminals always need to open up the whole link from hardware to software. Vivo pointed out that it regards the research and development of image technology as a systematic technical project. Therefore, we need to cooperate through platforms, devices, algorithms and other aspects, and both algorithms and hardware are indispensable. Vivo hopes to enter the next “hardware level algorithm era” through V1 chip.


It is reported that in the overall image system design, V1 can be matched with different main chips and display screens to expand the ISP’S high-speed imaging computing power, release the ISP load of the main chip, and serve the needs of users for photographing and video recording at the same time. Under the given service, V1 can not only process complex operations at high speed like CPU, but also complete data parallel processing like GPU and DSP. In the face of a large number of complex operations, V1 has an exponential improvement in energy efficiency ratio compared with DSP and CPU. This is mainly reflected in assisting and strengthening the image effect of the main chip under the night scene, and cooperating with the original noise reduction function of the main chip ISP to realize the ability of secondary brightness and secondary noise reduction.


Wang Xi, China Research Manager of IDC, believes that the clear direction of mobile image in recent years is “computational photography”. The development of upstream hardware can almost be said to be transparent, and limited by mobile phone space, the upper limit must exist. Therefore, various image algorithms account for an increasing proportion of mobile image. The main tracks established by vivo, such as portrait, night view and sports anti shake, are all heavy algorithm scenes. In addition to the existing custom HIFI chip tradition in Vivo’s history, it is a natural choice to deal with future challenges through self-developed custom ISP.


“In the future, with the development of imaging technology, the requirements for algorithms and computing power will be higher. At the same time, based on the consideration of supply chain risk, each head manufacturer has introduced a number of SOC suppliers, and the ISPS of a number of third-party SOC continue to update and iterate. The technical paths are also different. It requires the adaptation and joint adjustment of the developers of mobile phone manufacturers. The optimization work is bound to be greatly improved, and the power consumption problem will increase There is no such thing. “


He added that therefore, the exclusive image algorithm is fixed in the form of an independent ISP, and the image related software calculation is mainly completed by the hardware of an independent ISP. After this model is mature, it will have three meanings: the experience end has higher film production efficiency and lower mobile phone heating; The technical route of the manufacturer’s imaging team is always maintained in a controllable range; And under the risk of external supply chain, achieve the technical reserve and team training of the whole process of chip development technology and predicting the development of the industry – insight into the future needs of users – and finally develop products through its own technical team.

                                                         Building underlying core competencies

Head mobile phone manufacturers have long thought about the construction of bottom-level capabilities, which is also the necessity of the ecological development of the whole hardware industry – constantly exploring capabilities from downstream to upstream to achieve system level technical capabilities, which can also form higher technical barriers.


However, at present, for the exploration and planning of chip capabilities in more difficult fields except ISP, the external statements of different terminal manufacturers are still different.

Xiaomi clearly pointed out that over the years, it has been exploring the ambition and practice of SOC chip research and development, and OPPO has not officially certified the research and development of SOC. However, by the path that Xiaomi is practicing from ISP to SOC, we can not completely deny whether other manufacturers have similar considerations.


However, Hu Baishan, executive vice president of vivo, told the 21st Century Business Herald that mature manufacturers such as Qualcomm and MediaTek have invested heavily in SOC. Due to the large investment in this field and from the perspective of consumers, it is difficult to feel the differentiated performance. Combined with Vivo’s short-term capacity and resource allocation, “We don’t need investment sources to do this. Logically, we think to invest resources is mainly to focus on the investment where the industry partners can’t do well.”


According to Hu Baishan, at present, Vivo’s chip capability mainly covers two parts: soft algorithm to IP conversion and chip design. The latter’s capability is still in the process of continuous strengthening, and there are no commercial products. At present, vivo defines the boundary of making chips as: it does not involve chip manufacturing.


Before that, Liu Chang, vice president of OPPO and President of the Research Institute, explained to the 21st Century Business Herald reporter OPPO’s development progress and understanding of chips. In fact, OPPO already has chip level capabilities in 2019. For example, the VOOC flash charging technology widely used in OPPO mobile phones, and the underlying power management chip is independently designed and developed by OPPO.


Liu Chang told reporters that the current definition and development of mobile phone manufacturers’ products determine that it is very important to have the ability to understand the chip level. “Otherwise, manufacturers can’t talk to chip manufacturers, and you can’t even accurately describe your needs. This is very important. Every line is like a mountain.” He said that since the chip field is far away from the user, but the design and definition of chip partners are inseparable from the migration of user needs, mobile phone manufacturers need to play a role in connecting the upstream technical capabilities with the downstream user needs in order to finally produce products that meet the needs.


From the statistics of third-party institutions, it may be possible to roughly understand the current deployment progress of chip capacity of the three terminal manufacturers.


According to the data provided to 21st Century Business Herald reporters by smart bud global patent database (as of September 7) It shows that vivo, OPPO and Xiaomi have a large number of patent applications and authorized invention patents. In terms of the total number of patent applications, OPPO is the largest among the three, and Xiaomi has an advantage of 35% in terms of the proportion of authorized invention patents in the total number of patent applications. Smart bud consulting experts say that generally speaking, the more authorized invention patents, the more patent applications in the whole The higher the proportion, the stronger the R & D and innovation ability of the company.


The smart bud global patent database also counts the patents of the three companies in chip related fields: vivo has 658 patent applications in chip related fields, of which 80 are related to image processing; OPPO has 1604, of which 143 are related to image processing; Xiaomi has 701, of which 49 are related to image processing.


At present, OVM has three companies whose core business is chip R & D.


Oppo’s subsidiaries include zheku technology and its affiliates, and Shanghai Jinsheng Communication Technology Co., Ltd. Zhiya told the 21st Century Business Herald that the former has applied for patents since 2016, and currently has 44 published patent applications, including 15 authorized invention patents. Jinsheng communication, established in 2017, has 93 published patent applications, and since 2019, the company has 54 patents and Op Po Guangdong Mobile Communication Co., Ltd. applied in cooperation. Most of the technical topics are related to image processing and shooting scenes, and some patents are related to the operation state prediction of vehicles and artificial intelligence technology.


As a subsidiary of Xiaomi, Beijing Xiaomi pinecone Electronics Co., Ltd. registered in 2014 has 472 patent applications, of which 53 are jointly applied with Beijing Xiaomi Mobile Software Co., Ltd. most of the technical topics are related to audio data and image processing, intelligent voice, man-machine conversation and other technologies. According to the analysis of smart bud patent data field, Xiaomi pinecone has nearly 500 patent applications The advantages are mainly related to image and audio-video processing, machine translation, video transmission base station and data processing.


According to the industrial and commercial data, Vivo’s Weimian communication technology was established in 2019. There are no words related to semiconductors or chips in its business scope. However, it is pointed out that the company is one of Vivo’s main chip teams. At present, its main business includes “communication technology”.


On the whole, large domestic head terminal manufacturers have invested more than 10 billion in R & D in recent years, and vigorously solicited core technical talents to strengthen the relevant capabilities of self-research on the underlying chip or connecting the underlying technical framework, which can even be understood as an epitome of the increasingly majestic strengthening of the underlying technical capabilities in China.

Post time: Sep-15-2021