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Why can’t Intel and MIPS challenge the ARMpire?

VR-Zone chats with ARM’s VP of Segment Marketing about the state of competition in the mobile ecosystem at a recent launch event in Taipei.

ARM’s Ian Ferguson and representatives from chip partners shake hands after a Cortex A-17 launch event in Taipei.

The mobile world could be on the verge of a tectonic shift, or the status quo could reign supreme. The reign of ARM and Android could come crashing down to aggressive new players like Imagination’s MIPS, Intel’s mobile efforts, and Tizen. Or, these efforts could be mere vapourware and the status quo could be with us for the indefinite future.

Somebody who has an informed opinion of all things mobile silicon is ARM’s Ian Ferguson. As ARM’s vice president of Segment Marketing, he’s responsible for the architecture designer’s worldwide marketing efforts. VR-Zone had the chance to chat with Ferguson at ARM’s recent Cortex A-17 launch event in Taipei.

VR-Zone: During your presentation you said the “mid-range [of the market] is where most of the innovation will happen.” How can ARM maintain that innovative edge in the face of MIPS and Intel’s mobile push?

Competition is good. It keeps us on our toes. If I had to rank those competitor threats, Intel would be the highest and MIPS the lowest. Intel’s struggle up to this point has been around the rest of the SoC. I think the ARM partnership is doing graphics and other integration much better than Intel up to this point.

VRZ: What exactly is wrong with Intel’s SoC as far as graphics goes?

The feedback we’re getting is that the user experience performance wise is not up to scratch.  So, will they fix that? Yeah. They’ve got some great people. The competitive thing about Intel is less about technology and what they do with all those dollars in their bank account. What do they call it? Contra revenue? This says something of what they think about their technology.

What we saw with Clovertrail is they paid loads of cash to Lenovo to get the chip on the marketplace in a device. After the money was gone Lenovo said, ‘now we need to have a phone that actually ships in volume.’ Then they went with Qualcomm.

That was that generation. They’re continuing to get better. We fully expect on the high-end Intel will enter the space and will gain market share. I’ve been predicting it for multiple years, I keep having to delay it a year, but I think with Haswell technology they are there.

VRZ: Do you see a realistic threat to the Android ecosystem from Tizen or Firefox OS?

The operators want something else.  They don’t want all those app dollars to go to Apple or to go to the Android community. They keep looking at this third OS, even Ubuntu. It’s just very hard to see [a threat to Android].

Inside ARM the jury is out. I’m actually in the camp that says there will be a third OS. The reason why I think there will be a third OS is because of China. Because I think they’ll pick something – be it Ubuntu or something else – and I think it’s the one place that has the critical mass to [generate change].

VRZ: Arguably the reason why Android is so flexible and open source is to be a contrast to the rigid and closed source nature of iOS. Given that open source strength, is there a big demand to make something new considering how flexible Android and AOSP are?

I’ve got people in my group at ARM that talk to all of the operators, and there’s been people who continue to look at Tizen and people who continue to look at Mozilla and Ubuntu stuff. Inside ARM the jury is still out, but I’m in the ‘I think it’s going to happen’ camp.

I think the wildcard is China. It’s also a threat to us, there’s some talk in China about building a national processor. We, at ARM, make sure we continue to do the right things to make sure that we remain in that world.

VRZ: Moving on to MIPS, last July the company’s CEO Sir Hossein Yassaie said Imagination’s goal is to have “25 percent of the processor market within five years in terms of design elements.” From your perspective, what sort of threat does MIPS play to ARM? Is Yassaie’s goal realistic?

One of the biggest surprises to me is why they decided to make these grandiose claims. Why would you do that?

Licensing dollars and who you’re licensing to is a guideline of forward looking revenue. If you look at their space, I don’t see it. Their main customers are, at best, using two architectures today (between CPU and GPU). MIPS trying to come into our space as we try to go into their graphics accounts, but I’ll tell you: processor is stickier than graphics.

If you look at the Warrior CPU core, it was nice that they sort have had functionality in there that looks like a Cortex A-15 – we took it as a validation of what we’ve done. I thought it was cute they have ‘M-I-P’ now, as opposed to our ‘A-R-M’. We’re waiting for the ‘S’, I haven’t worked out yet if the S is going to be ‘server’ or ‘security’ [Editor’s note: for a full explanation of these abbreviations see this for ARM and this for MIPS] .

Look, Imagination has made some really strong claims. I haven’t seen silicon, I haven’t seen licensing deals that would make me worry or make a path to 25 percent. I don’t want to sound complacent, we’re absolutely not. We see them in some accounts.

Let’s see some silicon produced on Warrior. They said they have a lead partner, I don’t know who it is yet. I have a guess. I think it has to be an existing MIPS guy. If it was a neutral account or one of ours, I’d know about it.  Let’s see what their licensing number is like mid-year.

Also, it’s weird, if you were going to [get a 25 percent reference design share] why would you fire the sales team that knew about the technology? We’ve hired a couple of them. They had a brilliant guy in Israel, we’ve hired him; they had a very good person in China, and now she’s working for us.

That was strange to me, but they might have something up their sleeve.

VRZ: Thanks for your time. 


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