Arm CEO: Intel far behind in smartphone market

Warren East says Intel has no advantage in smartphone chip development and manufacturing

IDG: Intel has said that one of its advantages is the software development ecosystem, an area where they imply Arm is weak. How have you been developing the software ecosystem to support your devices?

East: The reality is the Arm ecosystem is really strong. I think when Intel made their comments quite some time ago, what they were really talking about is the PC software ecosystem around Arm. Absolutely, it's true -- certainly it was true -- that PC applications have been targeted for the last 25 years at the Intel processor, not at Arm. But in this world of the mobile Internet going forward, no, that's Arm.

To make a good consumer experience, you need good browser experience, good plug-ins, good operating systems. These are the leaders in the operating system world of consumer devices. Are they the leaders in the operating system world of PCs? Of course not. PCs have got 25 years of Microsoft history behind them and Windows is what you expect if you want a grey box that looks like a [laptop]. A consumer doesn't want to know about the operating system... [or] of the technology getting in the way. There's a whole load of browsers, plug-ins and enablers [for Arm].

IDG: Arm said it would focus on application processors for servers but no products are out yet. Is that a major market going forward for the company?

East: To say "progress" is a little bit strong. But servers are an emerging application for us in a few years at the back-end of the cloud. Are we going to be in supercomputers for space applications and weather forecasting? Forget it. But the back-end of the cloud, absolutely. Power consumption and cost are key issues for those people, and Arm is the way forward. We've been working for about two to three years with some startups, but now with some of our mainstream semiconductor partners ... and some blue-chip system companies who produce servers and equipment.

IDG: Has the emergence of low-cost laptops like netbooks and smartbooks taken you by surprise?

East: Smartbooks and netbooks ... we sort of expected it. Guessing the form factor is something we don't spend a lot of time on. Our goal is to enable semiconductors, to enable the equipment makers to ... capture consumers. We think our technology helps because of the very low power consumption. It also enables very high levels of integration, that means low-cost semiconductors. Apple, when they did the iPhone, they really moved the consumer experience on it, made it easy and took the technology out of the way. What we're doing is providing the engines to enable people to do that.

IDG: Microsoft has mentioned that its operating systems like Windows 7 won't support Arm. Are you pushing Microsoft for Arm compatibility with Windows?

East: I'm confident in our world, with or without Microsoft. If Microsoft wants to play, then good because they will realize some opportunities that they would otherwise lose. We would think that either there will be large Windows support from Microsoft, or Microsoft would have missed out on an opportunity. That's a decision only Microsoft can make, we can't do it for them. Would we accelerate the Arm progress for form factors with the Windows logo? Yes. Any improvement on that is good for us. If Windows doesn't happen, we can manage without the acceleration. I can sympathize with Microsoft because it's a difficult challenge for them because they have 25 years of baggage behind [PCs].

IDG: What is that baggage?

East: The issue is the old printer that you kept under the spare bed. When you bought a new PC and ... you plugged in your old printer with Windows, it just works. But they have to make all that baggage available on Arm as well. So it's a big maintenance task.

IDG: There are still hardware compatibility and usability issues in Linux that will take time to resolve. That could be an issue for people used to Windows.

East: If you look at what's been accomplished in 18 months to two years and compare that to the 25 years of the Wintel monopoly, it's clear that the consumer experience on Linux-based desktops ... in a relatively short period of time is catching up quickly. It's not going to be an issue.

IDG: What will Arm put in its next designs?

East: What's happening in mainframe land is happening in integrated chips. You can certainly extend it to 64-bit, virtualization and so on. Those are the type of things you will see. Whenever we're doing a new microprocessor, we're always looking at more miles per gallon. As we shrink the silicon you get the speed up as well. We do classic computer architecture ... it's all about getting more mathematics done in the same period of time.

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