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Summary:

Intel isn’t going to beat ARM when it comes to providing the brains behind smartphones, netbooks and even ultra-mobile PCs, according to ABI Research. The analyst firm said today that ARM-based ultra mobile devices will surpass x86 based devices by 2013.

Intel isn’t going to beat the likes of Qualcomm, Texas Instruments and others when it comes to providing the brains behind smartphones, netbooks and even ultra-mobile PCs, according to ABI Research. The analyst firm said today that ARM-based ultra-mobile devices will surpass x86-based devices by 2013, a reversal from this past year when 90 percent of the ultra-mobile devices were x86-based.

ABI classifies netbooks, mobile Internet devices (tablets), smartbooks and UMPCs as the sort of gadgets that will count on ARM-based application processors rather than CPUs from Intel, AMD or VIA Technologies. “2010 will be pivotal for building momentum behind non-x86 solutions,” writes ABI Senior Analyst Jeff Orr, “and gaining adoption in both distribution channels and by end-user populations worldwide.”

I would argue that the hard work has already occurred, with ARM pushing to ensure that popular software, browsers and operating systems worked on its instruction set. Getting Android, which runs on ARM, onto a variety of devices, and making sure Adobe Flash runs on ARM-based chips are what will help the company gain favor with device makers and the end consumer.

ARM has always had an advantage in mobile because the chips based on the instruction set were designed to sip power rather than glug it. That translates into a longer battery life and presumably a smaller form factor for the battery and end device. The biggest hurdle it had was that most of the software people want to use is designed to run on x86 chips. But in the last two years, thanks to the efforts to port software to its instruction set, and the overall movement of applications to the web, ARM has whittled away Intel’s advantage on that front, and we’re now seeing ARM-based devices finally hit the consumer market. Faced with faster processors, longer battery life and always-on connectivity, I agree with ABI that ARM will blow Intel’s Atom based gadgets out of the water.

  1. Arm has been the future since the mid-90s for a variety of reasons. Their execution has been fantastic and focused over this long period.

    As the power of these processors increases the platform will become the choice of mobile solutions. It would be fascinating to see it move into laptop like products…

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  2. [...] The mobile experience is better than ever and part of the reason is that hardware has caught up. Instead of slow, clunky processors, we’re now seeing robust platforms that enable the mobile world to be useful and fun. If nothing else, the tremendous growth of Apple’s iPhone has proven that, much like the speedy Snapdragon in my Google Nexus One. That same ARM processor is the driving force behind the HTC HD2 — it has given Microsoft’s Windows Mobile new life and a fresh breath of excitement unlike any I’ve seen in the past few years. And my colleague Stacey over at GigaOm adds another factor: porting desirable functionality like Flash to ARM makes the platform even more compelling. [...]

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  3. [...] The mobile experience is better than ever and part of the reason is that hardware has caught up. Instead of slow, clunky processors, we’re now seeing robust platforms that enable the mobile world to be useful and fun. If nothing else, the tremendous growth of Apple’s iPhone has proven that, much like the speedy Snapdragon in my Google Nexus One. That same ARM processor is the driving force behind the HTC HD2 — it has given Microsoft’s Windows Mobile new life and a fresh breath of excitement unlike any I’ve seen in the past few years. And my colleague Stacey over at GigaOm adds another factor: porting desirable functionality like Flash to ARM makes the platform even more compelling. [...]

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  4. @Stacey,

    I think you and ABI Research have nailed it. x86 computing has always had two glaring weaknesses:

    1. Poor marketing
    2. Software bloat

    Recent years have seen Microsoft and Intel substantially improve their marketing around x86 devices. However, the rapid adoption of mobile broadband, shrinking device form factors, and the emergence of cloud computing have significantly exposed x86 weakness #2 above. Like you and ABI, I expect Qualcomm, TI, Marvell, and Freescale (which is still privately held by the way) to be big winners.

    My $.02,

    Best.

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  5. [...] will overtake x86-based UMDs in 2013.   Many industry pundits like Stacey Higginbotham from GigaOm.com agree. [...]

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  6. Nalini Kumar Muppala Monday, February 1, 2010

    My thoughts on this tense battle between Intel on one side and the ARM eco system on the other side – in some detail – in 5 parts

    http://deviceconvergence.wordpress.com/2009/11/30/intel-vs-arm-in-the-smartphone-era/

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  7. [...] Research says that ARM-based ultra-mobile devices will surpass x86-based devices by 2013 because as Stacey wrote, “ARM has always had an advantage in mobile because the chips based on the instruction set [...]

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  8. [...] Research says that ARM-based ultra-mobile devices will surpass x86-based devices by 2013 because as Stacey wrote, “ARM has always had an advantage in mobile because the chips based on the instruction set [...]

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  9. [...] I can steal from Stacey Higginbotham over at GIGAOM : ARM has always had an advantage in mobile because the chips based on the [...]

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  10. [...] Put another way: Intel will actually have to prove that its Atom efforts have made progress in the eyes of consumers, even as the next-generation ARM chips arrive next year with even more computing power and judicious battery life. The company better hurry, because ABI Research’s prediction from nearly a year ago is looking true: ARM-based mobile devices will surpass x86-based devices by 2013. [...]

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