April 3, 2006 4:00 AM PDT
ARMed for the living room
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Not everyone is convinced ARM will be able to replicate its dominant share of the mobile phone market now that it's looking at the living room. Chip companies have invested a great deal of time and money in building applications for the respective chip architectures and don't really want to switch unless there is a very compelling reason, said Will Strauss, principal analyst with Forward Concepts.
Chips based on the PowerPC architecture are also popular with chipmakers for consumer electronics devices, Gwennap said. And other companies, like MIPS Technologies, Tensilica and Arc International are also gunning for this market, he said.
ARM acknowledges the challenge of convincing companies to change their software, but many customers have to upgrade their software on a regular basis to deal with changing requirements, Drew said. And if they are going to have to make significant changes to their software to accommodate digital rights management or other content-related technologies, they might as well start fresh with ARM, he said.
Also, ARM is building support for virtualization technologies inside its Cortex cores that will allow device manufacturers to blend the functions currently done by multiple chips into a single chip, Drew said. This will cut down on the cost of developing a powerful set-top box or digital camera.
"If it was a standard industry that didn't change very much, we'd have a real tough time," convincing chip companies to abandon their investment in a different architecture, Drew said.
The fickle nature of the technology industry also dictates that ARM must fully embrace the consumer electronics market, or risk losing its position in phones because another company has cornered the market for set-top boxes, or cars or whatever becomes the next must-have gadget.
"If product convergence means that mobile phones and consumer products really become indistinguishable, and other architectures are established, there is a risk that we will lose our position in mobile," East said. Without that stranglehold on the market, ARM would become just another chip designer.
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