What really grabbed my attention is that even though I anticipated Android to be big this year in my 2010 predictions, I did not expect it to be this big. It should also be kept in mind that the first Android handset only shipped just over 2 years ago, and now there are over 260+ ARM Powered Android devices on the market !! This is why I find the smartphone market so exciting – that you can have so much change and innovation in such a short time.
Android on TV: “World’s fastest mobile processor”
And if those updates weren’t exciting enough, I was taken back when watching TV this weekend. Processors have now come into mainstream vocabulary with the launch of the new Motorola Droid commercial that states “…with the world’s fastest mobile processor.” (My colleague Jeff Chu blogged about the smartphone on its release touting its features and the Texas Instruments’ Cortex-A8 based OMAP 3630. TI also blogged about their contributions to the device.) This and future consumer promotion will help to bring ARM’s name into more of the minds of consumers.
Innovation in the Software, Linux comes of age on ARM
software perspective Android has been really exciting and interesting in many ways. The first is that Android has made Linux successful in a consumer market, which has never happened in the traditional laptop/desktop market. In fact, based upon volume you can say that the ARM architecture is the architecture for Linux.
The other aspect of Android is how much innovation and work has gone into it over the last 2 years to take full advantage of the ARM architecture. When Android first came out with just Dalvik for applications, people assumed that somehow Android did not care about the underlying processor, even though the original Android release had 1,000 files of ARM assembler, and 28% of the core Bionic libraries were ARM assembler. The Android team and the ARM Community have been investing heavily in even more ARM optimizations to take full advantage of the latest and greatest ARM processors, such as the ARM Cortex-A8. In the latest release Gingerbread or Android 2.3 there are many significant new ARM optimized features, including:
- ARM native applications: For performance intensive applications such as games with the latest and greatest graphics, or apps such as VOIP or multimedia; it is now possible for these applications to be written totally in ARM native code to deliver the maximum user experience.
- WebM video codec support: with over 11,000 lines of ARM NEON code. For those who have never programmed in assembler this represents many months of work.
Innovation in H/W, much more to come
It is really exciting that consumers are sold on the latest and greatest Android devices with the best 1GHz performance, for example the latest Motorola Droid commercial above, but next year you will see a wide range of handsets with dual core Cortex-A9’s, for example the LG Star. However, I will be waiting for a handset with Samsung Orion with dual core Mali-400 MP graphics (video from ARM Technology conference by Charbax). FYI dual core solutions will deliver better battery life than a single core; this seems very counterintuitive and will be a topic for another blog.
Delivering beyond 1 billion Android smartphones
It is really interesting that this September we passed the 5 billion mobile subscribers mark, which by any measure is a lot of people who have bought ARM Powered devices. I think the next interesting transition is as consumers move from voice and feature phones to smartphones. Of course a $500 smartphone is too expensive for a wide range of consumers, but we are already seeing sub $100 Android smartphones coming to market. However, this trend becomes really interesting when the Cortex-A5 based Android handsets come to market.
The Cortex-A5 processor has all the features of the latest and greatest Cortex-A8 and A9 processors, but with a cost point comparable to that of a feature phone processor such as the ARM926, while delivering performance comparable to smartphones shipping today. Just as the mobile phone delivered voice to the developing world, the smartphone will deliver computing to the developing world.
So no matter your price point, from $500 to sub $100 smartphone, there are going to be some very exciting new ARM Powered Android smartphones shipping. Though 500 ARM Powered Android smartphones have sold while you read this blog, next year perhaps a 1000 ARM Android smartphones will have been sold.
James Bruce, Lead Mobile Strategist, ARM, is based in Silicon Valley. James is without doubt a gadget guy who is continuously looking at the latest devices and services on them. Working for ARM allows James to see what technology will be on your mobile device in 3 to 5 years time. This view of the future combined with being based in Silicon Valley and having worked on mobile for the last 12 years allows James to have a unique view of mobile technology. At the moment James is enjoying the latest quad core CortexTM-A9, quad core MaliTM-400 smartphone, but is waiting impatiently for next years Cortex-A15 phone.
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