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The Fall of Wintel and the Rise of Armdroid 431

hype7 writes "The Harvard Business Review is running a very interesting article on how this year's CES marked the end of the Wintel platform's dominance. Their argument is that tablets are going to disrupt the PC, and these tablets are predominantly going to be running on Google's Android powered by ARM processors — 'Armdroid.' Quoting: 'Both Microsoft and Intel have suffered from the same problem that most successful companies face when dealing with disruption. They cannot find a way to profitably invest in low-end offerings. Think about it from Microsoft's point of view: now that Windows 7 has been developed, to sell another copy, they don't have to do a single thing. Because of this, it becomes very hard for any executive to advocate the complete development of a low cost OS that will run on tablets: not only would it cost Microsoft a lot to develop, but it would result in cannibalization of its core product sales. Intel has the exact same issue. Why focus on Atom, or an even lower-end chip, when there is so much more margin to be made by focusing on its multi-core desktop processors?'"
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The Fall of Wintel and the Rise of Armdroid

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  • by Compaqt ( 1758360 ) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @09:24AM (#34914884) Homepage

    Maybe the much-awaited Linux surge isn't going to be in desktops but on mobile devices. Increasingly, people have become resigned to the fact that their portable computing devices aren't going to (and don't have to) look like the PC at work.

    Android and Meego (when it finally ships) are harbingers of the trend.

  • by uffe_nordholm ( 1187961 ) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @09:50AM (#34915044)
    There is a book about this problem: "The innovators dilemma". (http://www.amazon.co.uk/Innovators-Dilemma-Technologies-Cause-Great/dp/0875845851/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1295358384&sr=8-1).

    Shortening the entire book into one sentence, it says that when something new (tablets) comes along, the leaders in the old business (PCs) often have problems adapting to the new market.
  • No kidding (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Sycraft-fu ( 314770 ) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @10:19AM (#34915458)

    Something that the tech journalists who get infatuated with tablets seem to fail to consider is that they are lousy devices for content creation. They are good for passive experiences. If you want to surf the web or maybe watch a video (though a TV is better for that) they work great. However the more interactivity that is called for, the less useful they are. When you get to content creation, and by this I mean even simple things like writing an e-mail, they are not very good. They CAN do it, but not near as well as a regular PC.

    A tablet can't match a keyboard, mouse, and monitor for entering information. This is because the keyboard is an efficient means of entry, and has tactile feedback, and you can be looking at what you are doing without your hands occluding part of your view.

    So a tablet is fine as a toy, and for some special productivity purposes, but it lousy for most general work related things. That alone means that computers aren't going anywhere. Even if homes became 100% tablet, offices wouldn't because you need to get shit done there. Managers are not at all going to be interested in moving over to tablets and then have everything slow to a crawl as people's typing speed (among other things) goes through the floor.

    I don't see computers doing anywhere any time soon, particularly not in favour of tablets. We've got a few people at work that have iPads and they amount to nothing but toys. They all crow about how wonderful they are, but all they do with them were things they already did with their laptops, and none of them have gotten rid of their laptops and kept just the tablet. That's all well and good, but it is quite clear tablets are not something that is allowing them to dump traditional computers.

  • by Orne ( 144925 ) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @10:37AM (#34915698) Homepage

    Someone at Intel needs to read Christensen's "The Innovator's Dilemma".

    CompanyA is the leader in the high-end market. They see upstart CompanyB, who has a new (disruptive) technology that is targeting a new sub-market with lower profit margins. CompanyA says "Why do I want to compete with B at lower margins in an untested market, my customers don't want that product, and I am already in competition in my existing market. They can have those customers".

    So CompanyB takes the new market with the new technology with ProductB and CompanyA keeps making ProductA. But over time, process improvements in B begin to outpace A; Intel's CISC are too much for hand-helds, but an ARM may someday become powerful enough (multicore perhaps) to become a desktop processor. Technology A is already at the height of it's S-curve, while B climbs and intersects the capabilities of A. At that point, products A & B are equal in the eyes of the customer, but B is cheaper and soon nibbles at A's customers. CompanyA is non-existent in the new market which is now growing at unforseen rates. CompanyA is now in a position where it *must* switch to technology B, but it is years behind, and making B's canibalizes CompanyA's existing customers. History has shown that the CompanyAs soon hopelessly fall behind and thus die off.

  • by rcs1000 ( 462363 ) * <rcs1000@ g m a i l . com> on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @10:46AM (#34915810)

    ARM chips are improving enormously, and there's no doubt that the ARM9 instruction set is significantly more elegant than Intel.

    However, I'd be a little cautious about assuming that Intel/x86 will be threatened any time soon.

    I run Debian on a TI OMAP @ 800Mhz. It started as an experiment to see if I could transition my desktop to ARM. It ended as a VPN router sitting on my network (performing the extremely useful service of fooling certain US VOD sites as to my geographic location...).

    ARM chips are highly optimized for one particular feature set: extremely low-power mobile computing.
    Intel chips are highly optimized for another: Windows/Linux on the desktop.

    Almost all x86 has extremely sophisticated branch prediction to minimize calls to (slow) DRAM. ARM9 has pretty simple branch prediction. You will have far, far more cache misses on an ARM9 chip than on x86. So, to maintain performance for a given clock speed, you'll need to add on-die cache. Which starts getting pretty expensive. And the branch prediction on Intel is specifically geared around the way Windows (and to a lesser extent Linix) works. Unless Windows is completely re-written, or ARM ceases to be a low-cost chip, it's hard to see how ARM can offer equivilent performance at the same clock-speed as x86. For this reason (as well as the fact that ARM Windows will lack any kind of compatibility layer), I am pretty pessimistic about Windows on ARM - or indeed, ARM penetrating the desktop market.

    And I am equally pessimistic about Intel succesfully getting into phones and tablets. When running at low loads, ARM chips are extraordinarily efficient. Intel has made a big fuss about its HUGI ("Hurry Up and Get Idle") efforts. But, of course, this is incredibly misleading. Most of the time an ARM core is doing something... just not very much. Will consumers accept a phone or tablet with 50% less battery life (or worse) for an Intel Inside logo? I think not.

      Of course, ARM has another advantage (which is also, tangentially, a disadvantage). ARM does not make its own processors - it licenses its core designs to nVidia/Samsung/TI/Qualcomm/etc. This means that we can see an incredibly diversity of ARM-based products. Qualcomm can offer ARM cores with integrated 3G baseband. nVidia can add a couple of graphics processors, and call it Tegra 2. This means that ARM cores can be used in more applications, and more flexibly.

    But it also means that ARM cores will be at least one line-width generation behind Intel. Intel has a very efficient design and *internally* build structure, with the best process technology in the industry. Which means 32nm Intel chips battle 42nm ARM ones. It was this process disadvantage that did for AMD, and it means that ARM will struggle against Intel in desktop. It is tough to compete on cost when someone else has a 50% higher transistor density for the same cost.

    Wrapping up: ARM is fantastically well positioned for the fast growing tablet and smartphone markets; and Intel has a surprisingly defensible position in desktop/server chips.

  • The world moves on (Score:5, Interesting)

    by JerryQ ( 923802 ) on Tuesday January 18, 2011 @11:37AM (#34916424)
    I wrote my first program in 1970

    I have used ICL, Burroughs, IBM, Univac, TI, DEC operating systems, VMS, nix, CP/M, MS DOS, win x, Apple OS etc etc

    I have a wintel desktop which I use for devlopment activities, I carry an iPad, I have donated my laptops to nephews and nieces.

    If I did not work in the IT 'space' I would happily use just my iPad.

    If something better than that comes along I'll move on.

    The world moves on, wintel was mainstream, it is becoming niche, I for one, have spent my career in technology because I love the excitement of new things and concepts coming along.

    In my experience it is the wintel crowd who seem unable to look forward, and behave as though wintel has some sort of divine right to its previous dominance.

    The most important development I have seen in my lifetime has been the internet, connectivity to it, html and the browser. For MOST people, that is how they do most of their computing, oh yes, and lightweight, non bloat, function specific 'apps'. Sadly, I will have to continue to use wintel on a daily basis as I have a server farm, rather than farmville. ;-)


As of next Tuesday, C will be flushed in favor of COBOL. Please update your programs.