We keep hearing about all these tablets that are supposed to come out by the end of 2010, which makes us think it's going to be a very busy (and competitive) holiday shopping season. Go ahead and add Nokia to the ranks, which also wants a piece of the tablet pie and is slated to launch it's own branded unit in the fourth quarter.
There aren't a whole lot of details to go on, other than it will sport an ARM processor inside. Nokia is said to be in talks with various upstream component makers and has already completed about 100 engineering samples, but no one seems to know (or is wiling to say) whether the panel size will check in at 7 inches or 9 inches.
And that's really it. No definitive word on the OS or other specs, though there's chatter Nokia will tap into Meego and sell the device through its carrier partners.
Many viewed the advent of netbooks as a golden opportunity for Linux to capture the popular imagination. But netbook vendors and users never really warmed up to Linux. It might have failed to grab one massive opportunity, but it has a chance at redemption in the booming market for mobile internet-enabled devices.
British chip designer ARM and five system-on-chip (SoC) vendors – IBM, Freescale Semiconductor, Samsung, ST-Ericsson and Texas Instruments - have formed a not-for-profit company called Linaro to provide “new resources and industry alignment for open source software developers using Linux on the world’s most sophisticated semiconductor System-on-Chips (SoCs).”
Linaro will be rolling out new releases of optimized tools, kernel and middleware software every six months, making Linux-based distributions such as Android, LiMo, MeeGo, Ubuntu and webOS compatible with semiconductor offerings from different vendors. This should, in turn, help reduce time-to-market for ARM- and Linux-based devices, including smart phones, tablets, digital televisions, automotive entertainment and enterprise equipment.
"ARM and our partners have a long history of working with, and supporting, open source software development for complex SoCs based on the ARM architecture," said Warren East, ARM CEO. "As a founding member of Linaro, we are working together with the broader open source community to accelerate innovation for the next generation of computing, focusing on delivering a rich connected experience across the diversity of devices in our daily lives."
Less than two weeks ago, Bob Morris, ARM's director of Mobile Computing, made it clear that ARM fully intends to compete hard in the tablet market and expects his company's chips to account for half of all tablet PCs by 2011. Fast forward to Computex and the processor maker is as confident as ever.
ARM president Tudor Brown echoed Morris' statements, and then took it a step further. According to Brown, powering 50 percent of all tablet PCs might be a bit conservative, and the real number could linger closer to 70 percent, or even 80 percent.
That stands to be a lot of tablets. Citing IDC figures, Brown said there will be 3 billion Internet-enabled devices by 2014, of which 1.6 billion will be mobile devices, 350 million will be home-use devices, 500 million mobile PCs, 200 million multimedia players, 100 million in-car electronics, and 250 million PNDs and digital photo frames. Giving ARM an advantage in all of these areas, Brown notes that ARM processors consume very little power so device makers won't have to spend much time figuring out heat dissipation schemes.
Whether or not ARM is being overly ambitious remains to be seen. Intel has made it clear that it too fully intends to compete in the tablet space and is readying its Oak Trail platform, a new system-on-chip (SoC) solution the Santa Clara chip maker will use to attack the tablet market starting in early 2011.
If you're in the market for a low-cost tablet, hang tight, because several affordable models are on the way, says VIA's Richard Brown, vice president of marketing at VIA. In an interview with Bloomberg, Brown said he expects about five different models ranging in price from $100 to $150 to be available in the second half of 2010, all of which will sport a VIA processor inside.
All five models will be built around Google's open-source Android platform, which will play a big role in keeping the overall cost to a minimum.
"The tablet market has been legitimized by Apple," Brown said. "Android is bringing a lot of diversity to the market. There are different sizes and different looks and feels."
Taking down Apple will be no easy task, however, as the Cupertino company has already sold over a million iPads during their first month on sale and just recently launched to an international market. How the upcoming VIA-powered tablets compare remains to be seen, though Brown did say VIA is offering an ARM-based processor the for the new tablets.
Intel's Atom architecture has pretty much become ubiquitous with netbooks, and with tablets shaping up to be the next biggest fad in mobile computing, you can bet the Santa Clara chip maker will look to duplicate its success. Standing in Intel's way, however, is ARM.
ARM has no intention of letting Intel dominate the tablet PC sector the way it has netbooks, and according to Bob Morris, ARM's director of Mobile Computing, ARM processors will wiggle their way into 50 percent of global tablet PCs by 2011.
That works out to a lot of tablets. By Morris' estimation, global tablet PC shipments will total 4 million units by the end of 2010, and then balloon to 21 million units in 2011. Morris also said that Dell, HP, Lenovo, and Sharp have already adopted ARM-based processors for their smartbooks and tablets.
Says Roy Chen, ARM’s manager for worldwide mobile computing: “The first tablet devices will launch in the second quarter by [mobile network] carriers. You'll see a lot more in the third quarter.” A lot of this activity, Chen says, will take place in China, and he expects there’ll be products offered by the top ten telecommunications network operators.
ARM’s insight apparently comes from an inside view of the products its chips are being used in. ARM is often requested for additional engineering support, or is tied into a partnership arrangement.
While ARM's insight may be accurate, 50 seems like an awfully high number. It could be a matter of how ARM is defining a tablet PC. Perhaps it includes some new touchscreen-enabled smartphones. If accurate, however, and all of these new devices are legitimate tablet PCs, it will make 2010 a very interesting year indeed.
The Highlander battle among chip manufacturers has started anew. This time it’s among the makers of chips that run smartphones. Besides initiating a new round of cutthroat competition, this battle suggests that computing is undergoing a substantive conceptual shift--from units that are all powerful to ones that are strategically powerful.
The objective is to make more powerful chips that consume less energy, and take up less space, with the intent of creating products that are smaller and less functional than their PC brethren, but are more in-tune to the particular needs of their users. The big players include the well known, such as Intel, ARM, Samsung, AMD, and Apple, and the lesser known, such as Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing, Microelectroincs, and GlobalFoundaries. The money being spent in this competition totals in the tens of billions.
These chips are prevalent in smartphones, and they are working their way into netbooks, tablets and eReaders, where the current PC processor OS restriction doesn’t apply. This means that a whole new world of computing potential will be showcased as this little war plays itself out. It also means there will be some multi-billion dollar casualties along the way.
Suggested by this is the concept of computing shifting to address the particular, rather than the general, needs of users. If this market becomes economically attractive it might lead to a decrease in attention to the higher end, which in turn could mean slower development of the ‘hot’ technology that currently drives the market.
An ARM-based netbook running Ubuntu could be in your future with the newest version of Ubuntu Netbook Edition. Much like Windows, the popular Linux distro did not previously have support for ARM processors. This meant you’d only see Ubuntu on Atom-based netbooks, a category dominated by Windows. With the anticipated flood of ARM packing “smartbooks” expected to materialize, the devs got to work rewriting Ubuntu.
According to Ubuntu’s Jamie Bennet, the problem was that Ubuntu Netbook Edition required 3D graphics drivers that didn’t exist for ARM chips. They got around this by employing 2D Enlightenment Foundation Libraries to fake a 3D interface. We’re hearing that you won’t be able to tell the difference in the interface. If true, that’s a big win for smartbooks and Ubuntu.
This may be the space that Ubuntu specifically, and Linux in general, can succeed in. Windows is completely locked out of the smartbook game until such time as Redmond gets around to adding ARM support. Don’t expect that to happen anytime soon. Is an Ubuntu smartbook something you’d buy?
According to a report in the EETimes, NEC is gearing up to show off a high performance quad-core processor built around ARM's Cortex-A9 design. The unveiling is expected to take place during the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona next week.
If true, NEC would join a fraternity of companies claiming a quad-core chip based on ARM architecture. During CES, for example, Marvell Technology said it had developed the world's first quad-core ARM chip, but did not provide any details. Marvell's design is said to run faster than 1GHz, though it's unclear if the chip is a custom design or built around ARM's Cortex-A9.
It's safe to say that NEC has been chomping at the bit to release a quad-core Cortex-A9 chip. The company first introduced a multi-core ARM processor back in 2005, which was made up of four ARM11 processors and considered a test chip based on the ARMv6 instruction set, EETimes reports.
There are some interesting takes on the future of PCs, and then there’s Warren East’s take on the future of PCs. East is the CEO of ARM, which produces processors for mobile products, which offers good power and low energy consumption. According to East, not only will ARM processors become commonplace in the netbook market, but that the netbook market will come to represent 90 percent of the PC industry.
What’s particularly amazing about East’s projection of the future is that ARM’s processors lack Windows support. It’s going to be a pretty tough transition to ARM processors if they can’t run the dominate operating system for PCs.
Not a problem, says East. Yes, people love their Windows, but, he says, “the trajectory of progress in the Linux world is very, very impressive. I think it’s only a matter of time for ARM to gain market share with or without Microsoft.” So Linux, which currently has a market share smaller than Apple, is going to topple the Windows behemoth.
That’s not the only option, speculates Slashgear. It might be that the threat of Linux will force Microsoft to change--and rework Windows so it will support non-x86 hardware. Slashgear points to Texas Instruments’ OMAP4, NVIDIA’s Tegra 2, and Qualcomm’s Snapdragon, in addition to ARM, as hints of a non-Intel/AMD future. Microsoft may have to adapt or die.
And ARM has an advantage over the Intel-Microsoft option: it’s cheaper. Because of cost efficiencies, Robert Castellano of Seeking Alpha, predicts ARM processors will have a 55 percent share of the netbook market by 2012.
East may be onto something here. But if it comes to pass, what will gamers be left with? It’s hard to imaging running Crysis, at any frame rate, on a netbook--even one from the future.