ARM Change the Game
Mobile technology has evolved rapidly in the last few years, and with the recent announcement from ARM Holdings it seems clear that meteoric pace is set to continue.
Recent years have witnessed the rapid development of mobile capabilities across the spectrum of mobile suppliers. Much of the limelight has been grabbed by the iPhone 4S and iOS 5, which has put more power in the hand of the user and more features in the software, but this development has not been restricted to Apple, and the competition are on the rampage too.
Microsoft have delivered Mango, the latest incarnation of the Mobile platform, and one that is aimed at Enterprise. It moves away from being an “app launcher” by delivering the information you need in real time through their Active Tile technology. We have also had a peek at the future from Microsoft with Windows 8, showing us that Microsoft will converge the User Interface giving a consistent view be it desktop, phone, tablet or console!
Over at Google there have been software releases and hardware purchases. The release of Gingerbread for Phone and Honeycomb for tablet plus the announcement of Ice Cream Sandwich, has provided a step forward in user experience and functionality whilst the purchase of Motorola by Google saw a significant shift in intent from the software giant leaving the market questioning the strategic direction they were talking.
So what impact can we expect from the ARM announcement of the Cortex-A7 chip design? Well, there are two main advances this chip brings. First: it is cheap to manufacture and as such will further reduce the cost of devices built around it, accelerating the proliferation of smartphone devices. Secondly (and more importantly) it employs a technology that ARM call big.LITTLE which means there is a low speed and low power consumption CPU on the chip, the new processor can be combined with bigger ARM Cores - thus enabling the device to use the small CPU when less power is needed and switch to the larger core(s) when more power is required. Crucially, this allows the device to significantly extend its battery life as the new A7 consumes less power.
An example of this would be when a phone is sat in your pocket with the screen off it is still processing background data , but that processing requirement is very small and can thus use the A7. When you take the phone out to use it the handset can then switch to the larger and more powerful cores, ensuring that not only is your experience fast, but that battery life can also be significantly extended.
Cheaper devices and longer battery life are both very important when we look towards the release of Windows 8, as this operating system will be available for the ARM processor. A cheap device and long battery will re-define the Laptop, and we are already seeing Ultra Books from most vendors - slim machines with full processors keyboards and screens that boot incredibly quickly - and these machines will shrink again and have incredible battery life.
This rate of change makes for an exciting time. If we go back in time to when AMD entered the CPU market to compete with Intel we saw the latter make significant strides forwards in development, and I think we are likely to see the same again when ARM enter the PC market. If we play this story out in a slightly different direction the impact could be profound. Imagine using ARM processors in servers, for example, the impact upon power consumption would redefine how we could build data centres and with Windows 8 running on ARM that may not be so far away, HP recently announced their intention to build servers based upon the ARM processor.
For some time now we have seen the pace of development of mobile and consumer devices far outstrip those developments in the business arena, something I have referred to as the perception chasm, the gap between the technology we use in our personal lives and the technology we use at work. Right now that gap is growing, as consumers we are far more savvy and have greater demands on the technology we own, and those demands are driven by the mass of content and applications now available to us, both of which are developing at pace. As a result, desktop strategies for corporates must now focus more on application delivery and data security and less on the device.
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