What's coming to Apple and Android? ARM offers a roadmap

ARM chips are gong to power more PC-like devices from the likes of Samsung and Apple in 2014.

Google's Nexus 10.  High-end ARM tablets may move to 64-bit computing in 2014.
Google's Nexus 10. High-end ARM tablets may move to 64-bit computing in 2014. Google

On the eve of Intel's annual conference, executives from rival ARM described a more PC-like future for mobile devices in an interview with CNET.

ARM chip designs dominate smartphones and tablets worldwide. Its processors are the brains inside the iPhone, the iPad, Samsung Galaxy products, Google's Nexus line, HTC devices -- and the list goes on and on.

Samsung, Apple, Nvidia, Qualcomm, and MediaTek -- all licensees to varying degrees of ARM technology -- dominate.

That's a problem for Intel as ARM-based devices running Android, for instance, take on more PC-like attributes.

ARM's upcoming Cortex-A53 and A57 chips will, for the first time, support 64-bit computing -- something Intel has been doing for a long time in PCs.

"It will allow tabletlike devices to go from information consuming devices to information creation devices," said Noel Hurley, a vice president of marketing and strategy at ARM.

In other words, just like a PC. James Bruce, ARM's lead mobile strategist, expanded on this point.

In smartphones and tablets there are two interesting things happening. If you look at the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 that's up to 3GB of memory. And you're going to see a point in the next year or two years where 4GB is going to appear in smartphones and tablets.

The important thing is that the major OS [operating system] guys want an OS that works across multiple [designs], all the way from smartphones to tablets and devices beyond that.

And ARM aims to do this while allowing the long battery life that smartphones and tablets require.

The challenge for Intel is that it doesn't have any special cachet in the Android world. It's just another supplier of Silicon -- and a relative newcomer at that.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab 3 is a good example of what Intel is up against. Samsung stuck -- to many people's surprise -- an Intel Atom processor inside the Tab 3, instead of an ARM chip.

"A lot of noise was made about the Samsung Galaxy Tab 3, but actually when it came to market it was a disappointment," said Hurley.

He's right, the device itself was a disappointment. CNET said that "performance is slow when quickly switching apps...And $400 for a device with pre-2012 components is asking too much." Other reviews weren't as kind.

ARM's 64-bit future should arrive in 2014.

The Cortex A53 and A57 should appear in top-end smartphones and tablets and in server-type designs starting in 2014, executives said.

"We would expect to see silicon start sampling at the end of this year," said Hurley.

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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