Freescale to use Android, ARM for $100 Netbook

Freescale to use Android, ARM for $100 Netbook

Summary: Chip maker Freescale has announced that it will use Google's Android operating system for a new type of Netbook by next quarter.Though Google's Android software was originally developed for smartphones, Freescale believes it can use the flexible OS to make a new class of less-expensive mini-notebooks and Netbooks.


Chip maker Freescale has announced that it will use Google's Android operating system for a new type of Netbook by next quarter.

Though Google's Android software was originally developed for smartphones, Freescale believes it can use the flexible OS to make a new class of less-expensive mini-notebooks and Netbooks.

The privately held company, spun off from Motorola in 2004, will also collaborate with wireless technology companies Wavecom and Option to make higher-end Netbooks offering faster, third-generation connections.

Freescale, which competes with wireless chip giants Qualcomm and Texas Instruments, says it can connect its chips to the computer's memory far more cheaply.

The company expects the amount of Netbooks sold this year -- already an explosive amount of growth -- to double to about 30 million. (Mobile research firm ABI Research has a higher forecast of 35 million.)

Most of the Netbooks in the company's target markets are aimed at "casual, young users in the West" and ship with only Wi-Fi connectivity.

"For price reasons, the netbooks are going to primarily be shipped with just Wi-Fi. For mobile professional users, you do need 3G connectivity," Glen Burchers, marketing director for Freescale's consumer business, told Reuters.

In addition to Google Android, Freescale will also support third-generation operating systems from Phoenix Technologies and Xandros starting next quarter, the company said at Mobile World Congress.

Without doubt, the Netbook market is shaping up as a battleground for Intel's Atom processors -- which currently have the market to themselves -- and chips based on designs from Britain's ARM.

Freescale has chosen ARM, saying ARM-based processors have battery life of about eight hours -- four times as long as Atom -- less heat generation, eliminating the need for fans, and cheaper prices.

Freescale's Burchers said he believed that ARM could eventually capture half the world's Netbook chip market. (The first ARM-based Netbooks are coming to market this summer.)

Freescale designs its netbook chips for free software operating systems such as Ubuntu, saving manufacturers the cost of license fees for Microsoft Windows, it said.

"I think for developed countries you'll see good, better and best. I believe the good and better will be based on ARM. I believe the best will be Atom-based and will still run Windows, because you can do more with it," Burchers told Reuters.

Freescale believes Netbooks built around its technology will be able to be made at a cost of about $100, half the price of the lowest-priced of the current crop of Netbooks. That could translate to a retail price of under $200, a Freescale spokesman said.

Freescale said it is talking to Indian technology firm Encore Software, which is reported to be planning to supply millions of ultra-cheap Netbooks to India's government as part of an education program.

"We quickly rushed down there, found who they were and are now engaged with them," said Burchers, when asked about media reports of an Indian government project to supply netbooks for as little as $100. "I do think it's a huge potential market."

Best part of all? Freescale's Burchers noted that Netbooks were truly unnecessary yet an irresistible bargain:

Asked about what kind of consumer would buy netbooks in economically hard times, Burchers said: "Nobody needs this stuff but they want it, everybody wants it. And at the price point of $199, it's a great Christmas present or birthday present."

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Processors

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • And, Microsoft will be left scrambling yet again. Have they already started

    the port of real Windows to Arm, or will they try to use Windows CE here.
    • Windows Mobile runs on ARM

      Back in the day when Intel was an ARM licensee (Intel used to produce StrongARM CPUs before they sold the operation to Marvell Semiconductor), Microsoft had various flavors of Windows CE, Handheld PC, and later Pocket PC (precursor to Windows Mobile) operating systems running on ARM CPUs. Windows Mobile 6.x runs on ARM.

      The devices came from such storied names as HP, NEC, Sharp, and some oddball newcomers like Vadem (remember the Clio? whatever happened to them).

      CPUs also came from MIPS and Hitachi (the latter made the SH3), so the OS code bases came in 3 incompatible flavors (ARM, MIPS, SH3).

      So Microsoft's likely response here is to simply offer Windows Mobile 6.5 or Win CE. Given the cost of developing for and supporting another hardware (MS has been there before, remember, Win NT initially supported non-Intel hardware, as did Win CE), it's almost certain MS won't port a different OS (such as Win 7) to ARM.

      The danger for non-MS operating system vendors is that Windows Mobile could take over the market for these ultra-low cost netbooks the way its sibling XP (and later Win 7) dominates its more expensive sibling, x86 netbooks.

      Crippling the ARM netbooks (palmtops?) by not offering true feature parity or true compatibility with x86 Windows applications, MS would limit how much market share the ARM devices would get vs. x86 devices.

      As an aside, it's interesting how Intel now ridicules ARM, despite the fact that Intel was once ARM's highest volume licensee. And just as IBM sold its printer division to Lexmark, and later reentered the printer biz, Intel will find itself competing against Marvell as netbook prices drift further south.
      • Windows Mobile?

        The industry is slowly but surely coming to the consensus that WinMo in its present state isn't going to cut it against Android. If thats their answer then they have already lost.

        The danger isn't for the non-Windows OS vendors but for MS. What Android stands to do is erase the idea that people have that they MUST see Windows on a PC/laptop form factor in order to know how to use it. People use non Windows smartphones just fine all the time because they don't THINK they need to see a Windows interface. If Android pushes into the netbook market it may very well bring that type of smartphone thinking into the world of netbooks. At that point MS loses its hold. If people can use Android on a netbook then they can use the pretty HP netbook based on Ubuntu or any other interface an OEM may dream up.

        The so called usability advantage for Win7 on the netbook at that point would be lost and the additional cost would no longer be worth it. MS would find itself getting pushed out of the netbook market unless they give away Win7 and even still will be in the same boat they are now with WinMo....not being able to keep the experience as fresh as the competitors.
        • Windows Mobile is still much better than Android

          I run into way too many dead ends on my Android G1. Here's a list of problems:

          Android need a LOT of maturing still.
          • Actually, Windows Mobile is the one all the revierwers are dumping on, for

            good reason:


            But, in any case, Android will be one of many Linux based OSes offered on Arm based netbooks. There will probably not be any based on Windows Mobile.
          • Dumping Windows Mobile on Phones - but not necessarily Laptops

            The perceived negatives of Windows Mobile are more about its difficult operation as a phone, but these aren't as crippling on a laptop (netbook) form factor - and may be more of a competitor to Android in this space.
            Roque Mocan
          • The link didn't work...

            ...but having used WinMo for a while and now using Android WinMo is not up to par. It wasn't up to par with the Palm Treo I had and many don't see it as up to par with BlackBerry. My wife got a Curve around the same time I got a G1 and wishes now she had gotten a G1 as well. Its simply easier to use. So that doesn't say much for WinMo. It just doesn't stand a chance.

            Email sync and document editing have been addressed by third parties as planned. Remember this is meant to be a base and not the complete solution. If the complaints about Android were over any sort of glitches that probably has to do more with the hardware its on than the OS.
      • Not quite that simple. People will want a full OS, without restricted

        capability. With Android, they can run OpenOffice, for instance. And, it will also be a snap to run a standard distribution like Ubuntu.

        If MS can only offer Win Mobile or Win CE, they have already lost.
        • I dont think people will care about the OS.

          MS has done a great job of convincing people that a "computer" needs MS brand word processor, spreadsheet, email, etc. and of course it needs to run adobe brand photoshop, norton AV, etc. I think most people more or less have bought into this. MS has leveraged off of this idea of the "computer" to scare people off of the first gen linux netbooks, which were arguably pared down laptops. This next gen netbook is priced such that people will likely see them more like they do their phone, mp3 player, etc. No one cares what OS their phone, mp3 player, etc runs. I think the same will be the case for this next gen of netbook. What they will care about is not the OS, but what the device can do. So long as the price is right and they can listen to music, watch an mp4 movie, write basic documents, do email, surf the web, maybe create/edit a spreadsheet or presentation file, the specific software or OS won't be the issue that it is in the "computer" space.

          This, of course, is what has to have MS soiling it's drawers.
        • If the device quacks like a PC, it's market is Microsoft's to lose

          I'm no Microsoft fan, but history has shown that
          (OLPC, netbooks, laptops) if a device looks like
          a PC or quacks like one, eventually Microsoft
          gets to dominate the marketplace.

          With netbooks, Linux took an early lead, but
          then Windows ends up on 75% or more of the
          netbooks now shipping.

          This isn't about technical excellence. The
          marketplace has shown that the best technology
          doesn't always make it over the long run.

          It's quite possible that with the more powerful
          ARM devices, that Windows Mobile will be an
          also-ran, but the number of devices shipping
          with WinMo is nontrivial. When you're talking
          about hundreds of millions of devices, even a
          15-25% market share like what WinMo has is

          Intel is the wild card here. Intel's cost to
          make the Atom is dirt cheap, and it's making
          obscene profits from Atom.

          If Intel feels threatened by multicore ARM,
          Intel could fight back ARM with Atom the way Intel has wounded AMD.

          And don't count out miracles coming out of
          Intel's Israel development labs. These labs
          gave intel the Pentium M, and probably had
          a hand in Core 2 Duo and Atom.

          So a multi-core ARM fighter is within the
          realm of possibility (Intel already announced
          dual core Atoms last Nov 2008).

          Add to that Intel's unrivalled process
          technology (at least a generation ahead
          of anyone else), its worldwide network of
          fabs (over 10), its piles of cash on hand
          for marketing and developer support, and
          ARM has to be careful not to provoke the
          800 lb gorilla next door.

          With Intel's sale of its ARM operations to Marvell, Intel has cast its lot with x86, and,
          for better or worse, Windows (much as Intel
          would love to sell Linux).
          • Heat and Battery Life

            Intel's Atom is still not as efficient as ARM. Heat, cost and battery life. Since ARM's can run linux and normal linux PC apps just fine. It really is Microsoft's market to lose.

            They are in trouble. At a time when they are getting kicked to the curb by the iPhone. It will take over 3 years to be able to match the iPhone of 2007 without composting.

            That right there gives any android based device an advantage. Any vendor can pair the right hardware to Android and with a little linux hackery come up with composting like the iPhone.

            No vendor with Windows Mobile 6.5 will be able to do that. Who knows when Windows Mobile can do that? 2012? 2014? who knows?
      • Windows Mobile on ARM, What a joke!

        I have a Windows Mobile device running on an ARM chip... iPaq 2755. It has 802.11 wireless builtin... and bluetooth.... Yes, it "could" be a net-device. If Windows Mobile 5 worked.. I won't go into how painfull it was to get the mail to work... and it never worked reliably when I went to a net hot-spot.

        I can't depend on it (WM.5) to have battery when needed. I don't know what it does behind the scenes... Sometimes it will work fine for a week... Then all of a sudden, overnight, or sooner, it will run the battery dead doing who knows what.

        Basicly, I can't count on it to work when needed. I've lost track of how many times I've "reset" it because it wouldn't turn on with the on/off button. No, the button isn't defective... there are many times where it works as expected turning on/off.

        And yes, I've gone through all of prof. Julie's suggestions to extend battery life. I've even shut off all the sounds/alarms.

        Its running Windows Mobile 5, and I consider it a waste of money to have been suckered into upgrading it from the previous version.

        There's NO way I will recommend to anyone they buy a NetComputer with Windows Mobile on it.

        I'd rather have Linux or Android... on a Netbook. Heck, even my old PalmOS device did better than Windows Mobile.
      • RE: Freescale to use Android, ARM for $100 Netbook

        @rosanlo The truth is that Android is not going to overtake Windows. its a nice and flexible OS, but it still doesnt run any real applications. People are moving backwards with small adn relatively useless applications on mobile devices compared with powerful suites on powerful platforms.
    • If people decide to purchase it

      depends on whether someone wants to use a netbook with Android, when both Windows and Linux are available for netbooks
      • Full Windows does NOT run on ARM. Full Windows only runs on x86.

        So, very powerful Arm based netbooks, with long battery life, will likely be a big hit, and MS does not have anything for this market.

        If MS can only offer Windows Mobile and Windows CE for Arm based netbooks, they have already lost.
      • Good point.

        Battery is a plus, but the big question, how will surfing the internet be? Flash and other technologies bog down desktops, and wonder what it would do to an ARM processor. I notice a 2-3 second lag on pages heavy with flash on my netbook in FF. NoScript helps though since unwanted flash is never run.

    • RE: Freescale to use Android, ARM for $100 Netbook

      @DonnieBoy Windows already has a verison to run on ARM. But what everyone fails to see is that ARM CPU's are actually to slow to run full blown OS's. Nobody is left scrambling, because Windows is not going anywhere.
      You also fail to realize that none of these mobile OS's are real OS's. And even if they run something like ubuntu, there are not many apps that run on ARM that are full blown. So even if the Os itself will run on it, apps are coded to run on the x86 platform, so anything on the ARM platform will not take off for full apps.
  • One major item missing from Android

    is an office suite. You would need something that reads/writes .doc, .xls, and .ppt on any netbook.

    There may be an ARM port for OOo, which would be a good starting point. But if there isn't then I don't see this thing selling.
    Michael Kelly
    • Goole Docs?

      Yes, I know Docs isn't an ideal product on,
      say, a T-Mobile G1, but on a larger screen I
      could see Docs running more usably on Android's

      I wonder if they'll be rewriting a decent chunk
      of the UI to make use of a more netbook-
      desktop-scaled screen, or if they'll
      incorporate an actual window manager.
      • I haven't tried it on the G1 yet

        but from what I understand, Docs still is not 100% compatible with the G1 yet. But it's obviously a priority for them.

        Edit: Tried it, you can view a word document but not edit.
        Michael Kelly