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PreCentral: Fast, good, or cheap - or why you can't build a smartphone

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Fast, good, or cheap - or why you can't build a smartphone

Every other week or so a new thread pops up in the webOS Nation Forums about the possibility of building our own webOS smartphones or tablets. It always seems to garner a bit of attention, especially when the poster comes in with a set of state-of-the-art (or beyond) specs for their phone that they may as well have lifted out of the latest and greatest Android handset. While this kind of thinking can be fun, I'm here today to dump a bucket of cold water all over it.

Today's smartphones are incredibly complex devices. They're designed by teams that include dozens of electrical and computer engineers and have to be durable, stable, fast, thin, receptive, attractive, unique, and affordable. They're financed by huge companies with far reaching supplier, contractor, and partner relationships. They're created with the support of carriers and the interest of customers. While conceptually a smartphone is a computer, building a smartphone is nothing like building a desktop computer.

Go down to your local computer parts store and tell me how many cell phone processors, radios, and motherboards you see on the shelves. That's right, none. And these are products that are produced by the tens of millions. Consider for a moment the parts that make up a smartphone, say… an HP Pre3. There's a processor and graphics chip, RAM, storage chip, accelerometer, compass, two cameras, radio chip (incorporating GPS, Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and cellular), USB controller chip, Micro-USB port, LCD panel, capacitive touchscreen, battery, slider, keyboard, case, Touchstone coil, three switches (power, volume, and ringer), two speakers, two microphones, LED flash, multiple antennae, mirror, front glass, SIM slot, no fewer than screws, and numerous other components, plus AC adapters for the US, Europe, and Asia, USB cable, manuals, and packaging  - all sourced from dozens of different suppliers, the vast majority of whom are located in China. Chances are, you are not located in China.

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