ARM to Cut Legs Out From Under x86 by 2013

arm-vs-x86-abi

On our last podcast I said that now is the “perfect storm” for the ARM processor platform. The architecture is more capable than ever while remaining power efficient, and is good enough for random bites of Internet and mobile application functionality. ABI Research seems to agree and even went one step beyond — it believes that more ARM processors will power Ultra-mobile Devices than x86 chipsets just three years from now. ABI’s definition of Ultra-Mobile Devices is fairly broad: netbooks, MIDs, smartbooks and UMPCs all fit the bill. Call them what you want, I’d agree that these device classes are poised for ARM acceptance.

Why is that? There’s a change in the mobile winds. Mobile used to mean a crappy experience for the web or software as compared to the traditional desktop experience. So to meet needs, we looked for that same desktop experience in a smaller form factor. Compared to solutions available today, that’s not exactly the definition of mobile — or at least it’s not the only mobile game in town. The real growth has been outside of the desktop world — in ARM-powered handsets and other mobile devices.

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.

Netbooks are probably the lone exception to my thesis, of course. You can’t argue the fact of this x86 phenomenon. But if ARM-powered smartbooks or Chrome OS computers can come in at a compelling price-to-value ratio, I think ARM will even make inroads here too. Thoughts?

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