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The Limitations of Multi-core

The most obvious is money. Dual-core processors have so far featured only on Android handsets and while these models will certainly be the most desirable phones on Google's platform, software developers are keenly aware that there is little point creating apps that only reach their full potential on a small userbase of dual-core handsets.

In fact it could be argued that the conservative approach shown so far in Android Market means few if any Android apps truly test the power of the 1GHz single-core processors that have been in phones for more than a year now. After all, why create something which has such a small potential customer base? Sure there will be tech demos and a few headline titles, but until a) dual-core smartphones are the norm, and b) developers are comfortable coding multi-threaded applications - both not likely until 2012 - their power will surely go untapped.

With this in mind, dual-core, so-called 'superphones', also face another significant challenge to their evolution: the rise of mid-range smartphones. Just a few years ago there was a financial Grand Canyon between dumbphones and smartphones, yet today handsets like the £99.99 ZTE Blade are making £400-500 handsets look exorbitant and this commoditisation will accelerate with February's unveiling of the 4.3in ZTE Skate (above), HTC ChaCha and HTC Salsa, the Motorola Droid Pro and the Inq Cloud Touch and Cloud Q.

Furthermore this is all before Nokia's promise of affordable Windows Phone 7 smartphones hit the market. And lest we forget, while Infinity Blade (below) on iOS blew our minds, it is Angry Birds which brings in the real cash.

Consequently the true benefits of dual-core mobile devices won't be felt for some time. Certainly they will bring features such as 1080p video recording and playback, but this has little practical benefit when the larger batteries needed to store them have seen native memory remain at 32GB for another year while microSD continues to stall at that amount. Handset makers have suggested autostereoscopic 3D interfaces (3D without the need for glasses) could be a good use of dual-core horsepower, but this feels like hardware searching for a purpose.

When Ed wrote our Samsung Galaxy S II hands-on he remarked "Frankly, we're at a point where mobile hardware has outstripped software so it will be a while before these dual-core phones really benefit day to day use". This hits the nail on the head. We love technology, sometimes even technology for technology's sake, and what Qualcomm and Nvidia are doing is incredible. The problem is without radically overhauled software, multi-core risks becoming as empty an arms race as camera megapixels and that would be a real tragedy.

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