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.

Shortly after the iPhone launched earlier this year, the head of microprocessor maker ARM said the new handset will stimulate growth in the smartphone market because the hype around the product would pique people's interest. Since then, the iPhone, and the smartphone market overall, have taken off.

ARM's CEO Warren East was back in Taipei just after the launch of Google's Linux-based open software platform for mobile phones, Android, another potential mover for the smartphone market. But in an interview in Taipei with IDG News Service (IDGNS), he said Android will have a delayed effect on smartphone sales because handsets built around it aren't expected to hit markets until the middle of next year.

Smartphones are mobile handsets that also run software for e-mail, Web-browsing, mapping and calendaring, and other functions normally found on a laptop PC. Google is making the software only, and plans to offer it to manufacturers to use it in their handsets. So far, Taiwan's High Tech Computer has said it is already working on a gPhone, or Google phone.

Still, the new handsets will be good for ARM because it supplies its chip technology to the smartphone industry.

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.

ARM processing cores are in the iPhone, what about new Google-based phones that will be coming out in the second half of next year?

In a way, that's not as closely linked to us as the iPhone. The iPhone was that from the hardware up it was incorporating a bunch of ARM technology specifically. In theory, the Google phone could be based on Warren East's own microprocessor, if I had my own microprocessor. It's not really specific about architecture. Now the obvious place to start, though, is with ARM-based hardware because phones are based on ARM, so we do have some dialogue with Google, but the links between the Google layer and the microprocessor are all abstracted by the underlying operating system, so the linkage is just not there.

However, I am quite pleased by the Google announcement, quite enthused by it because it's another step on the road to fuel the growth of smartphones and smartphones for us represent a lot more royalty when a consumer goes and buys one. So if a consumer is going to go buy a smartphone now because it's a Google phone and that consumer wasn't going to buy one anyway, then that's great news for us and it can only help really.

But apart from that sort of general enthusiasm on how the Google phone will obviously stimulate further growth in the smartphone market, I can't be more specifically excited.

In a recent interview, Symbian CEO Nigel Clifford called Google's Android just "another Linux platform," indicating it's not much of a threat. Do you agree?

I suppose technically he's right. It's based on Linux, but I'd say it's a little bit more than that because Google is clearly steering it in a direction. Also, it's got the Google brand attached to it and in this day and age, if you attach the Google brand to a sweet wrapper, it's got some value, hasn't it?

I think what he's saying is that If you're going to build a phone operating system, then there's a lot of work involved between launching a phone operating system and having hundreds of millions of the them out in the market. Symbian's first operating system running on ARM was launched back in 1996 or 1997, and here we are 10 years later and Symbian has a majority share of the smartphone market. There's a lot of water under the bridge, it takes a lot of R&D to get there. I think he's just pointing that out.

What is ARM's place in the iPhone?

The iPhone is based on ARM11 and things like Google phones and iPhones do create demand for high performance devices. I think it's inevitable if the iPhone continues to be as successful as it appears to have been on launch, there will be iPhone II, III, whatever. And hopefully, if we do our job right, then they will be based on future ARM products.

The ARM11 is a microprocessor we first delivered to semiconductor licensees in 2002, so it's actually quite elderly technology.

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Dan Nystedt

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