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Despite its expansion into new markets, mobility will always be ARM’s bread and butter. Apart from already being the foundation for 95 percent of today’s smartphones, ARM has a growing presence in the tablet space as well. Next-generation devices, including Asus’s Transformer Book and Google's Nexus 7 tablet, have already launched this year based on ARM’s low-power processor architectures.
What's more, software giant Microsoft went so far as to develop a separate version of its upcoming Windows 8 operating system optimized specifically for ARM-based mobile devices. The software, known as Windows RT, will launch later this year on a variety of tablets, notebooks, and hybrid PCs from OEMs including Dell and Lenovo.
As a growing number of OEMs place an emphasis on mobile computing, rival chip-maker Intel has been gradually vying for a piece of the market, a move that could introduce a new level of competition for ARM. In January, Intel announced a "multi-year, multi-device" strategic partnership with Motorola Mobility, through which the handset maker will produce new devices based on Intel’s "Medfield" Atom processor. Other handset makers, including Lenovo and Chinese vendor ZTE, have also signed on to develop new mobile devices based on Medfield chips.
Chu said that ARM's sprawling list of chip licensees, however, will continue to give it a leg up in the mobile market, despite Intel’s debut. ARM's license-based business model means Intel won’t just face off against ARM; it means the Santa Clara-based company will face off against Nvidia, Qualcomm and a slew of other ARM licensees that have already made a name for themselves in the tablet and smartphone space.
"I think you really have to think about our success being driven by our partners' success. I think you have to look at that sort of breadth of products that are actually in the market place and say it’s really not about ARM versus Intel," Chu said. "Intel has to compete with Qualcomm, they have to compete with Nvidia, they have to compete with TI [Texas Instruments], they have to compete MediaTek, with Broadcom, with Freescale. There is a whole number of companies that Intel has to compete with in that market."
Chu also noted that the core processor is just one of many aspects that make up the full system-on-a-chip (SoC) that goes into a smartphone. Intel, because of this, will need to bolster an ecosystem of partners that can help it round out its chip offering with other smartphone-essential features, such as graphics, integrated modems, connectivity solutions and touch displays if it plans to compete on a serious level.
"All of these companies are competing, and they are competing really, really heavily," Chu said of the smartphone chip market. "Is Intel ready to play in that market, as well? It's a different world than what the legacy PC world has been like for the last 20 years."