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The beginning of an audio revolution


25 November 2009

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Pure Digital, a British electronics company has launched Sensia, a rugby ball-shaped touchscreen radio that harnesses the popular social networking phenomena and delivers it on an interactive radio with music. It is integrated with Twitter and Picasa and offers power metering, traffic information and security services.

Most people turn on the radio to hear a little music, the news or perhaps the latest instalment of The Archers – but technology is about to change all that.

sensia.jpg
Image credits: Times Online/ Twitter comes to the radio this week, followed by Facebook

A new device in the shops this week is expected to be the forerunner of radios that, alongside Terry Wogan, will offer a host of digital services, including electricity monitoring and security services.

The Sensia, a rugby ball-shaped radio with a touchscreen, is integrated with Twitter and soon will be updated to offer access to Facebook as well. But the real key to its likely success will be the integrated “apps store” as Pure, the maker, tries to do with radio what Apple has done with the mobile phone, with users able to download information and functions.

"We need Pure to go beyond audio and into areas like power metering, traffic information and security"

The prospect of the Sensia taking on the iPhone in the applications market may seem far-fetched, but Imagination Technologies, the maker of a mobile graphics and microprocessor chip technology, is confident that it can pioneer the use of radio as a connectivity hub in the home.
Hossein Yassaie, chief executive of Imagination, which owns Pure, said:

“Pure’s job is to run in front of the bullet train. Radios can act as a base station for everything else in the home. We need Pure to go beyond audio and into areas like power metering, traffic information and security.”

He said that the company was in talks with Spotify, the digital music service, about offering music streaming services. However, despite Imagination’s dominance in graphics processors for devices such as the iPhone, the Sensia will not offer video content.

Yassaie launched Pure a few years ago after becoming frustrated with consumer electronic device makers that did not see the potential of digital radio. He said:

“We could make radios we could sell for £99. The nearest to that in price was £900. We tried to get it into Sony and Roberts but they all had a nice cushy business and said: “Let’s stick with what we have and milk it.”

Yassaie said that everything Pure developed was available to its rivals in the consumer electronics market because digital radio had proved to be the salvation for its chip business.

Pure has about a 30% market share in digital radios but Imagination controls between 80 and 90% of the market for the chips that power DAB-based radios and thus benefits from the growth of rivals.

With Pure acting as a shopfront for the types of devices that can be developed using its parent’s technology, the overall company’s business has powered ahead. It originally developed technology for the Sega Dreamcast, but moved to take the lead in the market for graphics processors. It proved a long wait until the market caught up with Yassaie’s vision and devices such as the iPhone began to sell in volume.

“Back in 1993, people thought I was mad. The chief executive of a major US company told me I was wasting my time because phones couldn’t do graphics,” he said. Now the small British technology company counts Intel and Apple as its largest shareholders.

Imagination has plans to tackle ARM, the market leader, in designing semiconductors to power computers. While ARM increases processing power on a silicon chip by putting more cores into the design, Imagination believes that the future lies in retooling a single processor.

“The whole system has to understand that you could stop and switch at any time. Ultimately, everyone will come around to the idea,” Yassaie said, adding that he expected to give ARM “a run for its money” in the future.

 
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