ARM's CEO talks on Google, iPhone and Acorns

In addition to smartphones, East discussed the old Acorn PC, mobile devices for emerging markets, and the potential of putting microcontrollers in electric motors used in washing machines to make them twice as energy efficient, and the huge impact that would have on global energy needs.
  • (IDG News Service)
  • 09 November, 2007 11:47

Makers of computer microprocessors such as Intel and AMD have focused more and more on emerging markets and low-cost laptop PCs. What's your view on this market and how might the mobile phone side of the tech industry compete against the computer guys?

The ARM view is that those sorts of markets are probably better served by something evolved from the mobile phone end than something evolved from the PC end. Another thing you have to remember is that the ARM architecture itself was originally developed for a PC, the Acorn PC, and it had some good differentiation about it compared to the IBM standard PC. The Acorn had a fixed ROM (read-only memory), so the OS was inviolate, no viruses because it couldn't get any because it was in ROM, and there was no fan because it was in ROM, and the processor was very power efficient. And we've taken that architecture and applied years of R&D expenditure to it and it's still very applicable. If you wanted to build a product which you could call a computer, you could build it from the phone end.

There are Linux-based computers out there that are based on ARMs and behave in a simpler way than the PC and if that's the way the market evolves, then we're more than happy to see it evolve that way. If the One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) wants to evolve from the mobile phone end of things, we'd welcome that. There are a handful of products out there that look a lot like the old Acorn PCs that are very robust.

The reason developing devices from the mobile phone end is better is that because of its low power heritage, the battery is an easier concept to deal with. I can have more power, a longer battery life, a lighter battery ... I can have more reliable products because I don't have to have a fan to go wrong, I can have more reliable products because it doesn't get as hot and therefore it's cheaper as well, fundamentally a lot cheaper. Therefore reliability, low cost, are sort of automatic derivatives from the mobile phone.

Another automatic derivative of mobile phones is connectivity. And the sort of built-in disposition of the designers to build a communication device rather than a display-based device. I know PCs are almost all connected to the Internet now, but the connectivity is bolted on, it's not part of the design.

What's one technology trend that you would like to see take off next year or within the next few years?

If we had many more ARMs in washing machines next year, I'd be very happy with that. If you think about it, washing machines are not that boring. In 2006, there were 10 billion electric motors shipped in the world, and 90 percent of those electric motors could be twice as efficient as they were if they were changed into induction motors which you controlled by the induction field around the motors. But to do that kind of control, you need a complex control algorithm and for that you need to add something like a 32-bit microcontroller. So we see a huge potential for ARM in boring applications like enabling 90 percent of the world's electric motors.

[Adding a microcontroller makes] it twice as efficient, so that's a lot of energy savings. We deploy electric motors everywhere. You don't think about it, but they're everywhere. We believe the energy issue is an important question. With people in so many countries, including emerging markets, deploying so many items with electric motors in them, we think that's an important issue.

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More about: Acorn, AMD, Billion, Dialogue, Evolve, Google, High Tech Computer, IBM, Intel, Linux, Symbian
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