CodeAndroid early look at Zii Egg – waiting to bite
This answers a lot of questions about the device that most people have, so enjoy.
CodeAndroid early look at Zii Egg – waiting to bite
12 August 2009 3 Comments
Written by Justin Lee and edited Jaryl Sim.
Recently, CodeAndroid met up with the folks at Creative to talk about what Creative Zii EGG is, and the future of what Zii is going to be. No pictures however, as we got too excited discussing about the platform and possible future for the Zii hardware.
First off, let’s address a common misconception of Creative Zii EGG. It is not a consumer product, but a developer OEM product. The Zii EGG will become a consumer product, but it will not be branded and sold by Creative for now. However, they do have the option to introduce a consumer product under the Zii brand, and they are just as happy to support other companies to create consumer versions as well.
Stemcell computing is a term coined by Creative; what it really represents is a technology that takes lessons learned from nature and organically applies that to their Zii technology. Intel has their desktop multi-core processors; Sony, Toshiba, IBM (STI) has their own Cell Broadband Engine (CBE) running on PS3; and now Creative has their Zii. What makes Zii different is their focus on devices that require low power usage, the ability to scale accordingly to new requirements and specifications, availability to the market and high performance media capabilities all at a fraction of the cost. Mobile devices such as MIDs (mobile internet devices) and cell phones seem to be natural target platforms for the Zii. Stemcell Computing is not just a term to illustrate the architecture design for the ZMS-05 chipset but also the principles that apply to Creative’s business model and its relations as well.
OEM, ODM and Consumer
The strategy in the entire Zii and Stemcell computing philosophy is to provide a supported platform for OEMs; taking a complete barebones product that is market-ready, improve and customize it, then sell as a product. For example, if you’re a solutions provider in the restaurant business, you might want to make use of this OEM device to produce an order taking system. You can create your own software on top of it, add or remove different hardware features to your specifications and market it as an entire solution, from hardware to software, while reducing costs.
On the other hand, an ODM (original design manufacturer) can buy the processor and make full use of the media-rich capabilities, designing an entirely new product altogether that doesn’t look anything like the Zii EGG, and release it as a product of their own.
While Creative will also integrate the Zii technology into their future products, these products should not be mistaken for the Creative Zii EGG.
Following the Shan Zhai (mountain village/stronghold) business model, Creative wants to create an open hardware platform with the support from various partners by growing this platform organically, much like how OpenSource Software (OSS) works. By innovating and building on top of a barebones platform, companies can continue to create unique and different products, and at the same time may return some of this innovation back into the shared ecosystem.
To do so, they have come up with multiple levels of customization and support on both the hardware and software sides.
At the very foundation of the hardware level is the ZMS-05 Media-Rich Application Processor. This processor runs at only 1 watt, making it suitable for mobile devices. It can power down 16 different regions of the processor as and when an application requires the processing power. It is based on the Dual ARM926EJ-S core chips (ARM), together with other additional customizations making it optimized for high quality media processing which allows devices like the Zii EGG to achieve full HD with only a 1.3 megapixels (MP) camera. However, the clock speed was not revealed during the meeting, though we can take their word that it runs at a decent responsive clock speed.
The ZMS-05 System Module provides a compact module that uses a SODIMM connector. This module provides hardware developers the ability to integrate ZMS-05 into their custom product to easily add full media capabilities. This is suitable for ODMs who wants to add more capabilities to existing products, or enhance the system module with additional features.
The Zii EGG, however, provides a complete market-ready product to start developing custom software on top of it. It has an SDHC slot which will continue to be a standard for future Zii OEM products, 3.5mm headphone, a mini-usb for charging and connection to the laptop, and a 40-pin proprietary connection, for HD output and various other output that requires the throughput. The throughput wasn’t disclosed during the meeting, but presumably that it will be as fast as HDMI, or faster, which is about 4.95 Gbps over single-link or 9.9 over dual-link. Features that stand out are the hardware GPS receiver, 3-axis accelerometer, capacitive 10-touch multi-gesture touch display and X-Fi audio processing. The Zii EGG is fully customizable and scalable for the specific needs of your custom software and product, so you can add and remove features to keep your costs down.
Creative has their own Plaszma OS based on the Linux 2.6 kernel, which exposes C++ APIs to talk to the hardware. Opera 9.7 web browser is fully supported together with Adobe Flash Lite 3.1. Although Plaszma OS failed to impress, but we were promised that many performance tweaks and customizations were underway.
The Android OS is one of the Zii’s supported operating systems. Though we didn’t get much information on what kind of customizations and modifications were done to the original Android OS to run on the Zii EGG, we can assume that additional libraries will probably be available to support the 10-touch multi-gesture and other features not currently available on the Android OS.
CodeAndroid will cover more about the software in our next article, where we’ll get to meet the people working with the operating systems.
I’m sure everyone wants to know why a GSM module is lacking on the Zii EGG. Creative doesn’t want the Zii EGG to be confused as a direct competitor to the Apple iPhone, as it is a hardware development platform. However, their Shan Zhai OEM Marketing Program allows other companies to innovate with enhanced features such as integrating a GSM module. Together with Android OS support, it has the potential for being a strong contender in the market.
Creative has made a highly customizable and scalable platform for device manufacturers to choose what they require, while keeping the cost low. Bundled together with a fully supported software platform, Creative has created a complete end-to-end package for solutions providers to integrate both hardware and software together into their solutions.
On the other hand, with this much power, one wonders why Creative doesn’t just jump into the mobile device arena and make full use of what they have. However, I think they’re doing the right thing by keeping the platform open, allowing it to grow and gain popularity with third parties instead of keeping it closed.
Just as Google did with Android by providing a template for a mobile device software, Creative has followed suit by providing a template for a mobile device hardware. Both initiatives complement each other, hopefully creating a vibrant organic ecosystem, following the philosophy of stemcell computing.
Again, the Creative Zii EGG is not a consumer product from Creative, but a developer OEM product meant for other companies to customize and release under their own branding. You can start pre-ordering the Creative Zii EGG at USD$399 for the 32GB inbuilt SSD, or USD$199 for 0GB. In future, you can tweak the hardware specifications as required. It will start shipping at the end of August, with Plaszma OS flashed in the ROM, and an installer upgrade for Android OS would be introduced at a later date.
Reference from Creative Zii Press Release
A Plaszma SDK Starter Kit is available for immediate purchase at US$399 on www.zii.com. This Starter Kit comes bundled comes with Plaszma OS, Plaszma
SDK and the Zii Optimised Android OS. As an introductory offer, ZiiLABS is offering a 32GB Zii EGG for FREE with the purchase of the Plaszma SDK Starter Kit, limited to one per customer while stocks last. For customers who want to run the Android OS, an after-sales installer upgrade will be made available soon allowing them to change their operating system selection. Volume shipments of the ZMS-05 System Modules are expected in September 2009 with volume pricing starting at US$75 per piece. Customers who wish to manufacture or customize the modules themselves can obtain all the hardware design data required for US$5,000.
Everyone who writes about the Zii on an official level always say "it's not a consumer device". I'm at a loss for what that actually means to me.
I suspect it means it's not finished*. For instance maybe the music player will lack the most basic of functions - maybe it'll only play one song at a time or something?
Do any of y'all out there have experience with "development" devices?
* existing Creative customers, like me, are probably used to this
Even though the iPod Touch was available at retail, it is essentially a development device. The Cowon S9 has even more potential since nearly every aspect of it's UI can be customized. Creative is skipping that product-first, develop-it-later approach for something more basic. Don't expect a retail device to compete with the Touch or Zune HD this year. Or spend $400 for the developer's kit with a 32gb Zii and wait to see what develops. As far as I can tell neither OS is refined enough on the device to really show what it can do.
This is another case of Creative biting off more than they can chew. The Zii Egg when actually sold will be sold by companies other than Creative. It could be sold to a brick and mortar as their in store brand or to a fast food chain to be given away in kids meals. These devices won't actually be made by Creative, they will just provide the platform for other companies to pick and choose how the implement the feature set. Sounds kinda cheesey? That's because it is. After running Creative into the ground they don't have the ability to even make their own gear and sell it as Creative. So many bad choices eventually will catch up to bite you. Please someone just put them out of thier misery and buy them out.
I actually see it as Creative knowing their limits. I think they've been hammered with criticism either for their hardware or software on previous players. I can understand how hard it is to please every consumer all the time. Samsung can't do it. Cowon can't. Apple can't. MS can't. In each case a small group of engineers, designers, and programmers make a device. They do the absolute best they can. Yet the device is only as good as they are. Cultural, economic, and other factors limit scope, and the mythical "perfect" player remains a myth.
I don't know if it'll work, but I respect the experiment. Put a versatile processor in a box with every input/output technology possible. Then let anyone/everyone take a whack at it. Mathematically there is a far greater chance of creating the player that's perfect for you this way. I'm not sure we'll see it, but imagine an app store that also had complete UIs for download. Maybe one is optimized for building contractors, with only the tools they would find useful. Another might be perfect for realtors. Another could be that perfect PMP, with every codec, gapless, crossfade, EQ, effect, etc., you might enjoy on a player. Those scenarios have a chance with this effort. Time will tell.
If I were Creative I'd halt production of Plaszma immediately. If the hardware is open, and it'll run Android why would one of these 3rd party manufacturers opt to run Plaszma? 10 finger multitouch sounds cool (I'd be perfectly happy with four probably), but what else can it really offer?
Even if they did choose to run Plaszma, how would that benefit Creative? Licensing fees? It's hard to imagine a manufacturer choosing to buy a license for Creative's OS when they can (as I understand it) use Android for free.
As far as I can tell the only difference here is that Creative is being semi-open about it, rather then the usual process where you have to sign a pile of NDAs and order 10k units before you can get source code.
I agree EnzoTen I would love to see this be a great success. As bad a Creative has seemed to want to fail I still think they have some good players left in them.
I’m not a big fan of pmp’s as most know, but this has really caught my eye and I too would like to see what develops :)
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