Jeff Chu - Director of Consumer, Client Computing at ARM - took time out of his busy schedule at CES to give PC Advisor an insight into how the chip maker sees mobile and personal computing developing over the next few years.
The great thing about a show such as CES is that it offers a valuable insight into what to expect from consumer technology over the next 12 months. on that subject, ARM is in a unique position. The processor developer has literally hundreds of silicon- and hardware partners, representing a top to bottom slice of the whole tech diaspora, from white goods to Windows PCs. And Jeff told us that this broad range tells its own story.
He described the increasingly diverse range of smart goods now available as "the internet of things", and told us that "technology is becoming more engrained in every day life." Specifically referencing smart white goods such as connected refrigerators - and there are plenty of those here at CES - Jeff said that there are ARM chips already in such products, and that he expected micro controllers in smart devices to be a big growth area for the company.
"Technology is a tool to help with our daily lives," he said. "It's your world at your fingertips. Everything, everywhere."
But although in the past industry analysts have looked for a single device that will do everything, Jeff sees the increasingly diverse range of smart devices as a good thing, and a trend that is unlikely to be reversed. He perceives that there will be an even greater divergence of what he called "mobile and connected devices".
And Chu told us that the specific combination of connected devices chosen by each individual was leading to something he described as "the hyper personalisation of tech" - each individual, for home and for business, choosing and using a variety of computers ranging in size from smartphone through laptop to desktop, and supplemented by everyday devices with smart capabilities.
But surely, we said, this is unsustainable? How can devices across a broad spectrum of eco-systems hope to survive in a crowded market? There will have to be some convergance, surely?
Not so, says Jeff. "Google Android, the Amazon Kindle Fire, the iPad... they are all different, serving different people in different ways," Chu said. He said to expect some convergance around types of device, suggesting that as tablets get smaller in time we may see the rebirth of feature phones as mere, well, devices with which to phone people.
But he suggested that the important factors where flexibility of purpose, and the ability to talk to devices from different operating system families. So, for instance, there is room for Android, Windows and iOS to thrive, so long as you can edit a Word document on all of them. the exponential growth in cloud computing is crucial here, Chu told us. "Cloud enables further seamless integration of multiple products," he explained.
"Niche products are now mainstream," Chu said. And he suggested that the next big boom in mobile computing devices will happen when telcos start selling data plans to individuals to use across a range of devices. So, as with a software licence, you might get a series of SIMS to use in a series of devices, but pay only once. Chu said to expect something along these lines this year, a move that will gain greater impetus when Microsoft releases Windows 8 (able to run on ARM processors) and hardware makers grasp the potential benefits of selling an increasing range of devices.
All of this is, of course, good news for ARM. The chip maker has had a fantastic past few years, and Chu sees only further growth. He said that the company was focussing on power consumption and further innovation in chip design. He said that there are currently more than 50 ARM system on a chip products in the market, and that we should expect more.
Chu concluded by telling us that the plan for ARM was to continue producing chips to support an increasing variety of devices, ranging from smart white goods and TVs, through to PCs, smartphones and tablets. He said that controlling power consumption was the key, and that ARM will continue to offer the flexibility to support tech manufacturers in increasing the variety of personal computing devices we all use.