Tablets and smartphones from Apple and Samsung are going to get faster next year. The reason is the computer processor that is at the center of the devices’ functions will gain a new design as implied in the February announcement. I am talking about the ARM chip design which is the blueprint used by Apple and Samsung and other mobile device makers for their chips. The 2016 versions of these devices are going to get much faster and we will be at the place where ARM based mobile chips are complete replacements for Intel chips. I will give some observations.
As I mentioned in the post just before this one, changes are happening in the world of Microsoft Windows that is showing that the multiple levels of chips options from Celeron, Pentium, i3, i5, i7, and Xeon may become less relevant. The reason has nothing to do with those chips which I like, especially i7 and Xeon, but with how computers are used.
When you use the computer (including smartphones and tablets) to browse the Web, view and edit photos, view video, and write documents, you can do those acceptably on mobile devices today. Millions of people are using smartphones and tablets today to do these things and they find the situation to be very good. Agile technology is outpacing high-powered technology for day-to-day casual computing.
I really shouldn’t say anything about this since it may not be important if Intel chips remain in the mix for the future. Competition however, means that chip prices don’t go up so much that devices become a substitute for food and rent. Intel has momentum on laptops and desktop and I don’t think that type of computer is going away. At least anytime soon. They have an opportunity to destroy their own market in order to create a new one in which they are viable long-term.
Microsoft did SurfaceRT on ARM. Their product did not make positive waves commercially, but they still see value in it. That ARM technology is in the Raspberry Pi Edition of Windows they have planned that I talked about. All of x86 can make that leap to ARM in terms of legacy software that can be updated for ARM.
Realistically, casual computing involving web surfing, online bill pay, social networks, video, movies, music and all the other things you do online and the offline activities of photo sharing, editing, and writing documents are fully in the grasp of mobile today. That part is obvious. Now, for the not so obvious part.
A 2015 Intel i3 processor has more horsepower than a 2015 ARM chip that powers mobile devices like iPhones, iPads, Galaxy Note and so on. Since you can do casual computing beyond an acceptable level on these devices then it means that a 2015 Intel i3 is a luxury. If an Intel i3 is a luxury compared to a mobile device, why then would you need an i5 or i7 for casual computing?
The answer is that 2015 and earlier Microsoft Windows era technology was designed assuming there would be more horsepower. Just write the software, if the functionality is good, you have a winner. The end-user just needs to get a bigger machine to get more speed on the software. Design imperatives towards singular device models, slimmer designs, better battery life adopted by millions of people has changed all that.
The mobile technology wave means that to have a place in the mobile universe, your software has to be smaller and more efficient. At least far smaller than what the desktop/laptop version traditionally would have been. Software writers have to be more creative and insightful to match functionality between the two universes while respecting the criteria of mobile. That means a bloated photo editing software that is slow on an Intel i3 that is otherwise smooth as silk on a slower ARM chip has to turn over a new leaf and become leaner, faster, better.
Getting a seat at the mobile device table means that the App wave is about turning away from code bloat and inefficiency partly hidden by an overpowered computer processor. It means that a company that makes software for laptops, desktops, and mobile that wants to reuse software code across all those types of devices will inevitably gear the code for the most lean circumstance. That means future versions of leaner code will only get faster and that includes Microsoft Windows itself.
An Intel i5, i7, and Xeon still has relevance but in a smaller range of scenarios as mobile ARM chips expand in power, battery life, and energy efficiency. If Microsoft takes the lessons learned from their SurfaceRT exploration and forthcoming Raspberry Pi venture, it means that Windows 10 should shrink and get more efficient. It means that an Intel i3 becomes the market leader on desktops/laptops on the way to future obscurity as this era’s mobile designs evolve into larger, newer, but always power efficient forms that eclipse the x86 that came before.
All that said, in the interim, I am still favoring Intel on the vertical scalability spectrum. Linux runs very well on these chips, but on ARM as well. I would have no problem with an ARM based laptop. A great solution long-term is to sunset x86 and to see Intel produce an ARM compatible ISA that can run Android, iOS and other ARM native solutions easily. Such a situation may see Intel harness their decades of expertise to produce superior ARM chips. The overall hardware architectural landscape then begins to even out. At that point, it isn’t the variation on blueprint that matters but quality of implementation that we see now in the mobile arena to great effect.