Hardware Open Source

When Is It Really “Open Source”

From Phoronix:

Up to this point the graphics driver for the BCM2835 and its VideoCore processor found in the Raspberry Pi was backed by an open-source kernel driver but a closed-source user-space. Today — through cooperation with Broadcom — the Raspberry Pi Foundation was able to release the user-space bits to to this driver. Therefore there was then a full open-source ARM graphics driver with OpenGL ES 2.0, EGL, OpenMAX IL, etc. The one caveat though was that a firmware blob must be loaded at boot.
It turns out that Broadcom shoved much more into their firmware binary blob than just some basic setup routines and other non-critical tasks. Broadcom’s OpenGL ES (GLES) implementation is even lodged within this GPU driver firmware.

I’m not really sure it’s “open source” when you cram all the good parts into a binary blob. Essentially what they did was make the API slightly more open. I’m a bit disappointed at Broadcom. I’m a big fan of the Raspberry Pi, I own 2 already. However I’d like to see it open enough that it can improve and grow software wise.


Built In FM Radio Support For Next iPhone?

Broadcom BCM4330The most interesting thing in the iFixIt iPad 3 teardown is the discovery of the new BCM4330 chip. This chip is specifically a: 802.11a/b/g/n MAC/Baseband/Radio with Integrated Bluetooth 4.0+HS & FM Transceiver. That’s a mouthful.

Apple likes to keep things in sync. It’s a reasonable bet this is part of the next-gen platform for the iPhone. It’s assumed the next iPhone will have a similar if not identical LTE chipset as the new iPad. This gives a little hint of what might be to come. 802.11/a/b/g/n is a given. Same with Bluetooth 4.0+HS. A FM Transceiver on board is a new one.

This is a pretty interesting find. Specifically it receives and transmits FM. I’m guessing this is part of the next iPhone platform. No feature on the iPad so far supports this. While it’s possible Apple will never use it, I suspect they will. The iPod nano already has an FM receiver. This would be a feature parody against an entry-level product. Carriers will obviously love the idea of users getting music in a method that doesn’t need data connectivity (just like they favor WiFi). You’re locked into a data plan for 2 years anyway.

Even more interesting is the transmit ability. This could be the basis of a built-in iTrip car adapter in every iPhone. Just press a button and set your radio to the corresponding FM station. One less adapter, one less thing to fuss around with. Your iOS device now connects to any audio device with an FM receiver. Sure the quality won’t be perfect, but it’s a huge step towards your iOS device being your media solution everywhere.

This is of course a theory, but I think it’s at least plausible.


Israel Lifts iPad Ban

Israel announced that they have lifted the iPad ban.

“The scrutiny conducted by the Ministry technical team vis-à-vis Apple’s team, International laboratory and European counterparts confirmed that the device which could be operated in various standards will be operated in Israel in accordance to the local standards.”

Lets be honest. This had nothing to do with Israeli limitations on wireless communications. This had to do with importing a device that could be resold for significant profit without paying any sort of tax. Israel has more high-tech start-ups per capita than anywhere on earth. Needless to say the number of folks willing to pay a large premium to get their hands on one makes this a profitable market. It also makes the startups extra vulnerable to being extorted.

The truth is the iPad uses a pretty vanilla Broadcom BCM4329 (BCM4329XKUBG to be exact) chip. This is yet another chip in a very popular series of Broadcom chips for wireless communications. It handles Bluetooth and WiFi on one package making it very efficient and battery friendly. The iPhone 3GS uses the BCM4325. Millions of cell phones and laptops have very similar chips in them for the past several years. The radio is nothing new.

Almost every traveler bringing a laptop or smart phone into Israel has a wireless card of equal strength. If they had any real reason to believe that foreign wireless chipsets could be a danger to their infrastructure all laptops would need to be whitelisted before being brought to Israel. Clearly that’s not the case. Yes you can tweak via software to limit the power of a wireless card, but does anyone adjust their laptop when entering another country? Has anyone been checked when entering the country for wireless strength? I’m guessing not.

Now that a few weeks have passed, and the hype is starting to die down, there is no longer a need for the ban. Units will start shipping overseas soon anyway.

This isn’t a bad thing I might add. People who smuggle these devices in and resell them are just opportunistic and taking advantage of the situation.