Have you noticed that when you download a native app for Microsoft Windows Mobile or Symbian, it doesn’t ask you whose silicon is inside? It just works – amazing. That’s the beauty of the ARM software model and the whole ecosystem loves it. OEMs designing smart mobile devices appreciate the fact that they can source ARM powered silicon from multiple partners. If offers security of supply, a competitive market and a stream of innovative silicon being developed for them. It is quite common to have mobile OEMs with 6 or more ARM powered chip suppliers delivering cost-competitive, differentiated solutions. One silicon supplier might offer a mid range product with basic GPU and Standard Definition video playback whilst another offers a high end product with advanced GPU that can deliver rich graphics, 1080p video and integrated wireless connectivity. This arrangement has advantages to both OEM and silicon supplier. After all, who would want to be limited to a single supplier offering limited choice of silicon, reduced competition and limited innovation? Given that OEMs like having multiple ARM silicon partners, how is it possible to run a native app and not have to worry whose ARM based chip is under the bonnet/hood?
For a particular software platform the same top level native API’s, Execution Environments and Virtual Machines must be available regardless of underling SoC. It is the low level device driver software that has to be adapted by the silicon partner to the particular peripherals and system components on chip. This software investment by silicon partners is specific to the hardware they are integrating and to the operating system they are supporting. For example, a ARM GPU will need to have device drivers for Symbian, Linux and Windows Mobile if these are the OS platforms that the silicon partner and OEM want to support. Sometimes this software effort can be reduced by design and a family of GPUs can be supported by common device drivers (we do this for our Mali product range). If the silicon partner has developed their own GPU they will undertake this work as part of the bring-up of the silicon to a chosen OS.
Thus for the limited cost of silicon partners supporting developing OS drivers for their peripherals and specific hardware, we get a flexible ecosystem where software developers can write apps without deep knowledge of what silicon lies beneath (they care about the API’s, VM’s and EE’s).
Additionally we have backwards code compatibility that means old apps will run on the latest versions of the architecture. That’s really important to us as we’ve got 15 billion chips out there and a ton of software written for them.
There is a misconception that in the old world of x86 no porting is necessary. Well, this is only true if there is no further innovation around developing any new peripherals or advancing GPU/Video/Wireless solutions or supporting any new OS. Any of these changes require porting.
In contrast, the ARM silicon partners happily invest time to develop low level OS device drivers since it enables their competitive edge. OEMs have a choice of multiple silicon suppliers competing with innovative solutions. Our silicon partners get a slice of the 4 Billion annual units of ARM processor shipments. Customers get diverse devices and software apps just run.
Does ARM have an ecosystem? You bet – we’ve got everything you need from our 570+ Connected Community members. If the statement is about the fact that ARM has support from multiple OS, such as Windows Mobile, Symbian, Android etc. and various flavours of Linux, and pointing out that this makes the world a little complicated for software developers that’s just the flipside of having OS choice.
I can see why some would want to stay in the old world of limited OS choice and the just a couple of chip suppliers, but I think the world is moving on to value the end-user consumer experience. ARM has worked in partnership with the electronics industry for over 20 years to create a world of innovation and has maintained a software model that continues to thrive and grow to quickly meet evolving end user requirements.
That feels better. Time for a beer (it’s late in Taiwan).
Rob Coombs, Director of Mobile Marketing, ARM, focuses on mobile gadgets that can fit in your pocket and is excited about the next wave of Smartphones that promise to be smarter and wow us with stunning graphics. This new class of Smartphone, which will focus on personal Internet and user experience, will change the industry and delight users. The ARM mobile marketing team are at the centre of the mobile industry and this provides a great place for Rob to look at the trends, and comment on the news that drives the industry and our business.
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