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Why Mobile Innovation Outpaces PC Innovation 231

Sandrina sends in an opinion piece from TechCrunch that discusses why mobile systems are developing so much faster than the PC market. The article credits Intel with allowing hardware innovation to stagnate, and points out how much more competitive the component vendor market is for smartphones. Quoting: "In PCs, Intel dictates the pace of hardware releases — OEMs essentially wait for CPU updates, then differentiate through inventory control, channel / distribution and branding. Intel and Microsoft win no matter which PC makers excel — they literally don't care if it's Asus, Dell or HP. In the smartphone world, it's the opposite. Dozens of component vendors fight each other to the death to win designs at smartphone OEMs. This competitive dynamic forms an entirely different basis for how component vendors approach system integration and support. Consider Infineon, which supplies the 3G wireless chipset in the iPhone. In order to stay in Apple's graces, Infineon must do everything necessary to help the hardware and software play well together, including staffing permanent engineers in Cupertino or sending a team overnight from Germany. Do you think Intel does this for Dell?"
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Why Mobile Innovation Outpaces PC Innovation

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  • I See It Differently (Score:3, Interesting)

    by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <eldavojohn AT gmail DOT com> on Monday June 21, 2010 @02:09PM (#32643858) Journal
    Man, complaining about Intel's market dominance and not even one mention of AMD? If Intel was holding everyone back with your proposed CPU and Chipset conspiracy, don't you think that would just prime the market for AMD to pair up with VIA or someone and just wreck Intel?

    I'm no market expert but I think the author of this opinion piece overlooked a lot of things. For example, when you make a chip or chipset that is sold to Dell or HP or whomever to be put into another device, you're not directly fleecing the customer. You get smaller margins that way than you would if you were the manufacturer, marketer and distributor simply because Dell takes a cut otherwise. There's more money to be had in making complete phones because not only are you fleecing the customer but the carrier is willing to subsidize you to get the customer into a juicy two year data plan deal to the tune of $70/mo (at least in the US). I would assume this money spurs more rapid development and innovation.

    Quite frankly, I'm curious how Intel decides the "bundling" of my AM2+ motherboard running my cheaper quad core AMD chip? And if they don't, why isn't my AMD motherboard outpacing Intel and "keeping up" with mobile devices?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Monday June 21, 2010 @02:21PM (#32644004)

    Mobile developers keep reinventing the wheel. It's not unusual to find that the latest and greatest phone lacks elementary features which the predecessor had. For all the innovation that's supposedly going on in the mobile world, they quite frankly have little to show for it. The best they could come up with so far is a flood of proprietary ports of the PC platform with restricted user interfaces and wireless modems.

  • Re:Good Enough (Score:4, Interesting)

    by 0123456 ( 636235 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @02:23PM (#32644038)

    The PC isn't innovating because it doesn't need to - it's already perceived as "good enough" by its users. Advances in computing power generally get asorbed by the ever-increasing needs of the OS and office applications.

    I bought a laptop for $1000 in 2007. I just replaced it with a 2010 model $1000 laptop... the CPU is 5x faster, the GPU is immensely faster, and it plays all my games at medium to high quality settings with no problems when the old one had problems playing anything more sophisticated than Pacman.

    So while I'm not sure that providing vastly greater power for the same price counts as 'innovation', I'd hardly say that the PC market is stagnant. I'd agree though, that if you don't play games or edit video or some other performance-intensive task then even the cheapest PC is generally 'good enough'.... probably much of the real 'innovation' in the PC market over the last few years has been getting usable performance at lower and lower power consumption (e.g. my Ion system takes 30W to play HD video that my 300W Pentium-4 system can't play at all).

  • by $RANDOMLUSER ( 804576 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @02:30PM (#32644116)
    That's only partially true. It happened again (in a big way) with the switch from 16 to 32 bits, and it is/has again (in a much smaller way) with the switch from 32 to 64 bits. Picture what the computing world would be like today if Alpha (and maybe Unix) had been adopted instead of everybody waiting for the Itanic to come in. Just the THREAT of Itanic was enough to scuttle SPARC, PA-RISC, MIPS, ALPHA...
  • Actually, all modern machines should be running 64-bit OS only - simplified address space management and increased register count makes it a no-brainer.

    As of Windows Vista and Windows 7, Microsoft has severely tightened its requirements for digital signatures on kernel-mode device drivers. So if you have connected a home-built or low-volume peripheral to your PC, the only way to run self-signed drivers without "Test Mode" always on top in all four corners of the screen is to run Linux on the bare hardware and Windows in a virtual machine. But how well do virtual machines support x86-64?

  • by sootman ( 158191 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @02:38PM (#32644246) Homepage Journal

    Maybe it's because the PC market has already gone so far? In the last five years, handhelds have been gaining things--large color screens, powerful web browsers, built in wireless--that desktops have had for years. This stuff was physically impossible to do at small sizes five years ago.

    Also, everyone in the world already has a PC, but people are just now buying large numbers of (only recently existing) mobile devices.

    TechCrunch headline, June 2015: "Why implant innovation is blowing away handhelds"

  • by cheesybagel ( 670288 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @02:39PM (#32644268)

    I point to this fallacy:

    Consider Infineon, which supplies the 3G wireless chipset in the iPhone. In order to stay in Apple’s graces, Infineon must do everything necessary to help the hardware and software play well together, including staffing permanent engineers in Cupertino or sending a team overnight from Germany. Do you think Intel does this for Dell?

    Dell is not comparable with Apple in this case. Apple develops the operating system software for the iPhone. Intel also has permanent engineers at Microsoft, just like Infineon has engineers at Apple. Microsoft develops the operating system software for the PC. Intel also funds many Linux driver developers, and has staff working specifically on Linux support.

    There are multiple x86 vendors including Intel, AMD, VIA. The reason there is not more competition is that Intel exploits network effects leveraged by their market monopoly which lead to the current situation. It used to be at a time that the chipset was manufactured by different vendors than the CPU. This enabled more rapid progress in some cases (e.g. ALI and VIA had a chipset with onboard 3D graphics long before other vendors). This is no longer the case. In fact it seems chipsets are becoming increasingly irrelevant as more things get integrated in the same chip. Intel is starting to include the graphics card and high speed I/O in the processor chip. Eventually the chipset will be today's equivalent of a slow I/O south bridge. Perhaps it will even vanish completely.

    Another reason that mobile devices will not leave the PC industry behind is that Intel has superior manufacturing prowess. Historically Intel has had inferior chip design capabilities: the 8086 was inferior to the 68000, the 486 was inferior to many RISC processors, the Pentium Pro was inferior to the Alpha, etc. None of this mattered because Intel had the ability to deliver in volume and price where its competitors could not. The Pentium Pro, for example, had similar integer performance to Alpha because it had superior manufacturing, even if the hardware design was worse. Today Intel enjoys a healthy manufacturing process lead over all their competitors. It is a matter of time until they develop a specific chip to attack the smartphone market, like they developed Atom to counter the rising MID market, or Centrino to counter Transmeta years before.

  • Re:It's About Time (Score:3, Interesting)

    by dkleinsc ( 563838 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @02:42PM (#32644302) Homepage

    In other words, we know what works well on a desktop. And more to the point, we know what doesn't work on a desktop, which is why we'll probably never see another trackball ever again.

    In mobile, we're only collectively beginning to understand what we should be trying to build. There have been some real dead ends too - Palm handwriting, anyone?

  • by swb ( 14022 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @02:43PM (#32644306)

    It would be pointless overkill; like GM stationing a permanent automotive engineer at my local car dealership to oversee oil changes.

    Ha! They may soon have to given the complexity level of cars and the lack of sophistication in the repair department.

    My Volvo actually required a software patch only the factory engineers knew about (unique to subset of ECMs in my model year) and I've run into other people who have had problems the "shop couldn't solve" and that actually required an engineer from the factory to figure out.

  • Even more than that: you don't want rapid "innovation" in established products. When I buy a new computer, I want it to be better than my last computer, but I specifically want a lot of things to be the same. I'm used to a certain UI, and I have a variety of peripherals already that I might want to plug into it. I want to be able to perform essentially the same tasks in the same way.

    Basically, the smartphone market had a distinct shift a couple of years ago (when the iPhone was released) where vendors started offering a new kind of product. They were starting with a clean slate, and you can draw whatever you want on a clean slate. Once you've established a new product that way, you have a relatively brief period of time to refine that vision before people's expectations become established. Then people want everything to work "as expected", and they want legacy support more than they want new features.

    Don't get me wrong, I'd love to see more innovation in the desktop/laptop market. But if someone did conceive of a new and interesting vision for the computer, they'd have a lot of inertia to overcome.

  • Re:Good Enough (Score:4, Interesting)

    by nyctopterus ( 717502 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @03:05PM (#32644554) Homepage

    PCs are failing hard at something the same vendors have figured out is really important for mobile computing, and that is UI responsiveness.

    My experience is this:I upgrade on a 4-year average, and I usually do so because I can no longer run a recent Adobe CS at a usable speed. Every upgrade allows me to work on more complex and bigger files, for sure, but the responsiveness of the UI has definitely gone down. Illustrator CS5 feels slower on my 2.8Ghz Core 2 Duo with 4gb of RAM than Illustrator 9 did on a 500Mhz G4 with 256mb of RAM. This is true even working on very simple stuff. Launch times are absolutely atrocious, cancelling a mistakenly called operation (like say, applying a texture) still virtually impossible (why the hell do they even bother with the "cancel" button on progress bars?). It's not just Adobe, Apple's never managed to claw back the responsiveness of the classic Mac OS, and Microsoft Office... well, it's got seriously nasty.

    Big-ticket software has made using a modern computer like wading through molasses. Yeah, it gives you a lot speed for some things that are processor intensive, but pressing a button, opening a menu, or bringing up a dialogue are all going to be slower. In some cases, much slower. This is EXACTLY the opposite of what I want. I don't care if a filter that was going to take two minutes takes four, if I can go and do something else without everything being as slow fuck. Even as I type this, the computer occasionally failing to keep up. I mean really, typing words into a web browser while playing an MP3: I was doing this in 1998 with no lag.

    If I really believed there was still innovation in PCs I would say that instant-response UIs--where cancel buttons worked and processes just got slower rather than stepping destroying responsiveness--were going going to be the next big thing. However, I don't think anyone gives a shit, because all the software vendors have gone down this road.

  • Stagnation (Score:3, Interesting)

    by QuietLagoon ( 813062 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @03:18PM (#32644740)
    The article credits Intel with allowing hardware innovation to stagnate

    The stagnation in the PC industry has far more to do with Microsoft's monopoly-maintaining innovation-stifling policies than anything else. At least Intel had some marginal competition in the form of AMD. Microsoft had no real competition for over a decade, and the entire PC industry and its customers suffered.

  • Re:"forced" upgrades (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Monday June 21, 2010 @03:37PM (#32644994)

    *All* processor architectures are putting lipstick on pigs. Every so often a new "clean" RISC architecture comes out where the instruction set is supposed to look like the actual hardware. Then within a couple of CPU generations, the hardware landscape shifts and they slap ugly layers of abstraction between their backwards compatible instruction set and the actual new hardware. (Many years ago I listened to a pitch from a guy at MIPS, who was touting their chip named for "Microprocessor without Interlocked Pipeline Stages". Guess what they added to the next version of the processor: Interlocked pipeline stages!)

    Intel themselves tried the hardest to get out of this cycle by making the hardware extremely visible to the instruction set with Itanium, trusting compiler technology to handle the resulting morass. Result of this experiment: Epic fail.

    At the end of the day, X86-derivatives run at speeds in the same ballpark as any other CPU architecture that can be programmed with real-world tools by real-world coders, and they do it at a fraction of the cost. Why break all of the code out there if there's no big payback?

    In the low performance efficiency market, ARM currently has advantages over X86. But by the time they bloat up ARM with a few more generations of "innovation" to get into the X86 performance range, it probably won't have that much of an advantage in size or power.

"So why don't you make like a tree, and get outta here." -- Biff in "Back to the Future"