According to the newly-released DisplaySearch Tablet Quarterly report, shipments of tablets powered by chips based on ARM’s CPU designs will grow by a projected 211 percent in 2011 to nearly 60 million units. At the same time, mobile devices using Intel’s x86 architecture are not expected to pick up steam until 2013. Meanwhile, Apple sold 11.12 million iPads in the September quarter, a 166 percent annual unit growth, grabbing a Strategy Analytics-estimated 67 percent market share of all quarterly tablet shipments, down from 96 percent in the year-ago quarter when the company took the market by surprise and left competitors flabbergasted.
ARM’s domination in mobile stems from the tremendous growth of smartphones and tablets, the vast majority of which come with chips based on ARM’s blueprints. With iPad accounting for more than two-thirds of tablets and their A-series of chips being based on ARM’s designs, it’s really not surprising that tablet PC architectures are now feeling the heat by ARM and iOS.
In retrospect, the mobile landscape might have looked a lot different had Apple’s deceased co-founder Steve Jobs not listened to the iPod Godfather Tony Fadell. I found this incredibly interesting anecdote yesterday in the authorized Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson…
Encouraged by the successful transition to Intel processors for Macs, Jobs had initially planned on basing the Apple tablet on Intel’s Atom platform, Isaacson explained in the book:
Since the Macintosh computers were now using Intel chips, Jobs initially planned to use in the iPad the low-voltage Atom chips that Intel was developing. Paul Otellini, Intel’s CEO, was pushing hard to work together on a design, and Jobs’s inclination was to trust him. His company was making the fastest processors in the world.
However, engineer Tony Fadell strongly opposed the idea based on power consumption and even threatened to resign should Jobs proceed with Intel’s platform:
Apple had been an early partner with ARM, and chips using its architecture were in the original iPhone. Fadell gathered support from other engineers and proved that it was possible to confront Jobs and turn him around. “Wrong, wrong, wrong!” Fadell shouted at one meeting when Jobs insisted it was best to trust Intel to make a good mobile chip. Fadell even put his Apple badge on the table, threatening to resign. Eventually Jobs relented. “I hear you,” he said. “I’m not going to go against my best guys.”
In fact, having realized Fadell was right, Jobs would later go on to greenlight the $278 million acquisition of a 150-person Palo Alto-based fables chip maker PA Semi in April of 2008. The then CEO also proceeded with the purchase of chip experts Intrinsity. Apple’s in-house PA Semi team would then design processors for iPads, iPhones and iPods. Apple’s A-series silicon is based on ARM’s CPU blueprints and Imagination Technologies’s GPU designs.
The Intrinsity team was responsible for performance enhancements such as higher clock rates and additional L2 cache. Samsung manufactured the chips in its fabs, per Apple’s design. Jobs outlined two reasons for eventually deciding against Intel-branded processors.
The A-series of chips containing ARM’s CPU cores drive all of Apple’s iOS devices today, including the latest iPhone 4S which runs dual-core A5.
First, he told Isaacson, Intel “is like steamship, not very flexible”. Second, “we just didn’t want to teach them everything, which they could go and sell to our competitors”. Tony Fadell would step down as senior vice president of the iPod division in 2008 because of supposed infighting with Scott Forstall’s team on the iPad OS platform design. He stayed on as a special consultant to Steve Jobs before severing final ties with Apple in March of 2010.
Nest, his 100-person startup, made waves today with an intelligent thermostat appliance that sports a remarkable user interface (the work of designer Mike Matas, another former Apple guy and co-founder of Push Pop Press), an iPod-esque click-wheel and the ability to learn and adapt itself to the user’s energy consumption behavior.