This is a bit embarrassing, but one aspect of technology that has totally passed me by is gaming. I have never played a single game on a games console (not even for 10 seconds). I have built and overclocked gaming PCs for my son, yet I have never played a single game on one of these 700W beasts. I do play casual or puzzle games on my tablet, but even that is sporadic. The only reason I know when “Grand-Theft-Need-For-Battlefield-1975” has been released is through the technology blogs.
My Games Are Not GPU Intensive
So it would seem that I would be the totally wrong person to write a blog about the future of graphics in mobile devices. Surely the blog would be of the form “if you like intense gaming, then you should buy a phone with a GPU”? But in fact, even if you never play a single game ever, the GPU in your tablet or smartphone is incredibly important to you.
We All Like Eye Candy
The two major trends occurring in the mobile space are the increase in screen resolutions and the desire for a great-looking, fluid User Interface (UI). In the last five years the resolution of a smartphone has increased by almost 14x. This increase in pixels alone has multiplied the computational requirements of the device, but the desire for the best-looking UI has driven these computational needs even further.
This continuous UI revolution has actually allowed us to do so much more on a small screen by enabling the full compute experience with just a touch interface. We are now at the stage where my ARM® Mali™-T628 GPU-based smartphone can support multiple windows, play 1080p video, offer full screen editing and allow me to navigate smoothly around a “desktop” webpage. Though there will be some people who say that this is just “eye candy”, it is this very eye candy that has enabled anyone, no matter what their previous experience, to use a mobile device with ease. Of course, these people who dismiss the importance of a modern UI probably make comments like “a command line is much quicker” or still think the internet was better with gopher and telenet clients.
A UI on a 1080P Screen Can Be Done Without GPU
To achieve this advanced level of UI, you need a GPU. It simply cannot be done on a CPU with the desired energy efficiency, the desired frame rate, and the desired consistency of frame rate.
Enabling the Next Generation UIs
The continuous demand for UI improvements is here to stay. In order to deliver the next generation of UI effects GPUs will need to support OpenGL® ES 3.0. And given that consumers will want access to these latest UIs even within entry-level devices, it will be extremely important that OpenGL ES 3.0-enabled GPUs are available at every price point.
At the high-end of the market, tablets and external displays are trending to 4K resolutions and at this point you really do need the GPU performance to support it. As smartphone and tablet use cases evolve to the point where your smartphone can act as a desktop replacement using an external monitor, or your tablet drives gaming on your 4K DTV, then the power of a high performance, energy-efficient GPU comes into its own.
GPU Compute For All
GPU Compute is a rather dry term that does not convey much of the consumer benefit involved, so in order to explain it more clearly: GPUs are very, very good at processing an awful lot of pixels in parallel; this means that a GPU is able to process video and images significantly more quickly and efficiently than a battery-constrained CPU can. GPU Compute offloads parallel tasks from the CPU onto the GPU where they can be executed much more effectively than on the CPU alone. GPU Compute will be at the heart of next generation video and photo editing applications, while it will also enable features such as real-time image recognition on mobile devices.
The ARM Mali-T600 GPUs were the first to bring Full Profile GPU Compute to the mobile market and the next generation of ARM Mali GPUs will build upon their success in order to deliver GPU Compute functionality to the entire breadth of the electronic consumer device market.
Care About the GPU, Even if You Do Not Care About the Games
As can be seen, the GPU is incredibly important to overall user experience. Whether you are buying an entry-level smartphone or a high-end tablet, the ARM Mali GPU range will enable next-generation graphics technology on all devices.
Of course they will be very good at games as well, but just don’t ask me about it.