Nvidia's Tegra chips have been conspicuously absent on smartphones this year, but the company is hoping to bounce back with Tegra 4i-powered smartphones in early 2014.
Tegra 4i has an integrated 4G LTE modem that should make it more power efficient, and therefore more attractive to phone makers and wireless carriers. In an earnings call, Nvidia CEO Jen-Hsun Huang said the chip has been certified for AT&T's network, and the first Tegra 4i smartphones should launch no later than the second quarter.
This year, Nvidia has found itself out of the smartphone game among high-end handsets. Rival Qualcomm has proven far more popular, with its Snapdragon chips featured in the Samsung Galaxy S4 (U.S. edition), HTC One, LG G2, Google Nexus 5 and Nokia Lumia 1020, among others. Tegra revenue still doubled last quarter, but largely because of tablets, convertible devices and micro-consoles such as Ouya.
The idea of Nvidia Tegra on a smartphone is intriguing as the company positions itself as the best choice for gaming. Nvidia likes to tout Tegra 4's unique visual effects, and often works with developers to optimize their mobile games for the processor. The Nvidia Shield handheld is meant to be a showcase for Tegra 4's capabilities.
"We believe that Android is going to be a very important platform for gaming in the future and to do so we have to create devices that enable great gaming to happen on Android," Huang said.
Unfortunately, Tegra 4i may not be the chip that Android gamers are looking for. Whereas Tegra 4 uses a Cortex A15 core, Tegra 4i relies on the slower Cortex A9, which means it'll likely be targeted at mid-range handsets.
Down the line, Nvidia could bring everything together with its next-generation mobile processor, codenamed "Project Logan." This chip aims to significantly narrow the gap between desktop and mobile graphics, but it's unclear whether integrated LTE will be part of the equation. While we'd love to see a smartphone with the same graphics muscle as Project Shield--and the ability to stream games from a networked PC--it may still be a long way off.