While Intel processors currently hold the dominant position in the ultra-mobile device space, market research firm ABI is predicting that ARM-based devices will start outselling Intel-based systems by 2013, driven in large part by user demand for a "always connected" experience. In addition, ARM-based chips are showing up in more form factors, such as tablets, according to ABI.
In 2009, about 90 percent of the netbooks, smartbooks and other
ultra-mobile devices were powered by x86 processors, particularly from
However, analyst firm ABI Research is predicting that percentage
will change dramatically over the next few years, with systems based on
ARM chip designs outselling their x86-based counterparts by 2013.
In report released Jan. 21, ABI analyst Jeff Orr said that "2010
will be pivotal for building momentum behind non-x86 solutions, gaining
adoption in both distribution channels and by en-user populations
In 2010, ABI is projecting about a 75-25 split, with Intel leading.
However, the changeover in leadership will begin in 2013, and the ratio
by 2014 will be about 60-40 in favor of ARM-based devices.
With the netbook market entering its second generation and other
ultra-mobile devices seeing an increase in sales, users are looking for
looking for a more "always connected" experience, for which ARM-based
products have a reputation.
In addition, Orr said, ARM-based products are coming being used in a growing variety of devices, such as tablets.
ARM officials are pushing their designs into new areas. ARM-based
products already are the dominant processor technology in such devices
as smartphones, a position being challenged by Intel and its Atom
chips. Intel is developing a 32-nanometer version of Atom that will
officials say will offer better leakage control than current versions
that and will offer capabilities found in ARM-based products.
Intel also is establishing an Atom developer program to further expand the reach of the technology.
In October 2009, ARM officials unveiled their Cortex-A5 MPCore processor,
which will be cheaper, faster and more energy efficient than its
predecessors and will be aimed at a range of Internet-enabled devices,
including netbooks and embedded consumer and industrial systems, as
well as smartphones.
ABI's Orr also said another growing trend toward ARM dominance
revolves around the rising demand for sufficient network capacity and
the difficulty some mobile operators have in meeting that demand. While
many see users of such devices as Apple's iPhone as the major source of
the demand, Orr disagreed, calling that idea a "distraction."
"In general, laptops and netbooks with embedded or attached modems
contribute a significantly greater amount of traffic to 3G networks
than smartphones do," he said.
The question of whether ARM-based products will overtake x86-based
devices has been up for debate for about a year. In March 2009, Robert
Castellano, an analyst with The Information Network, said that netbooks
powered by ARM's Cortex-A9 and running Linux will overtake x86-based
ultra-mobile systems by 2012.
However, IDC analysts said around the same time that non-x86-based
systems wouldn't gain more than 10 to 20 percent of the market, with
one analyst saying that systems makers would be wary of angering Intel
by using too many products from another company.