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.