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Arm Chips and Tablet Computers and the Fuuuture!!!

January 11, 2011

This article in the Guardian is a good summary of the twists and turns in the PC/mobile market – which has huge implications for all forms of digital technology.  To summarise, until recently Windows (which still runs on about 90% of the world’s PCs) would not run on Arm chips – which are designed for smaller mobile devices.  Now Mircosoft has announced that the new version of Windows will run on Arm chips, which opens this new Windows to be usable by mobile and tablet computers that run Arm chips.  The article argues that first this is a little late for Mircosoft, especially given that in 2001 Bill Gates thought tablet PCs would be big – yet the company failed to follow up on his vision.  It is also late as the new version of Windows will take time to develop and Android and Apple are rapidly coming to dominate the space..

Companies such as Samsung, which used to focus their hardware efforts on Windows PCs and phones, have started instead making smartphones and tablets running Google’s Android.

Samsung says it has sold 1.5m of its Galaxy Tab tablets since mid-October, and it has become the world’s fourth-largest handset maker (after Nokia, Apple and BlackBerry creator Research In Motion). Microsoft isn’t seeing a cent from that success. Nor is Intel, which has grown fat on making chips for PCs: Arm chips power all of those phones and tablets.

The change is made even keener by the fact that it was Bill Gates, the Microsoft co-founder, who announced the tablet revolution in November 2001, bravely asserting that it would be the most popular form of PC within five years. He was wrong. Microsoft failed to develop a tablet and by 2009 only 1m of the devices were being sold per year. But in 2010, that increased dramatically to an estimated 16m, driven by the launch of the Apple iPad, which accounted for about 14.5m of those sales.

[Former manager at Nokia, Horace] Dedlu says: “Many of Microsoft’s customers chose to use an operating system product from Microsoft’s arch-enemy [Google]. Microsoft, in turn, chose to port its operating system to an architecture from Intel’s arch-enemy [Arm].” And that, he thinks, marks the end of two long monopolies enjoyed by Microsoft and Intel.

Others agree. “The PC is not going to be the 95%-dominant solution five years from now,” said IDC analyst Al Hilwa. “The trajectory of the iPad and all these Android devices is to take on multiple form factors.”


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