Smartbooks have been delayed by Flash issues, says ARM

Smartbooks have been delayed by Flash issues, says ARM

Summary: The chip design firm has blamed the lack of smartbooks on the market on the slower-than-expected optimisation of Flash for ARM architecture


Smartbooks have failed to materialise due to delays in Flash optimisation, a lower-than-expected uptake of Linux on netbooks, and the sudden emergence of tablets, ARM's marketing chief has said.

ARM dominates the mobile phone chip design market and has since 2008 been trying to get into the subnotebook market as well. The plan was to do so through Linux-based, ARM-powered 'smartbooks' that would provide an instant-on, longer-life alternative to x86-based netbooks but, according to ARM's marketing vice president, Ian Drew, events have conspired to stall this plan.

"We thought [smartbooks] would be launched by now, but they're not," Drew told ZDNet UK on Tuesday. "I think one reason is to do with software maturity. We've seen things like Adobe slip — we'd originally scheduled for something like 2009."

ARM and Adobe signed a partnership in late 2008 that was intended to see Flash Player 10 and Air — both rich web platforms — optimised for ARM-based systems. That work is only likely to come to fruition in the second half of this year, when an optimised version of Flash comes out for Android smartphones. As Apple's Steve Jobs recently pointed out, Flash was originally supposed to ship for smartphones in early 2009.

"Our target is mostly internet machines — it becomes sort of a requirement that they run the internet," Drew said. "[The delay in optimising] Flash has stalled it".

Drew suggested that solving the issue of Flash optimisation had involved "lots of heavy lifting" but once the new version of Adobe's rich media software is in place for smartbooks, that would be "very powerful" for ARM.

In March, another ARM executive suggested that more than 50 ARM-based tablets would be released later this year. According to Drew, the sudden explosion of interest in the tablet form factor had "confused" some manufacturers that had been considering ARM-based smartbooks, which tend to resemble laptops, thus further delaying smartbooks' advent.

"Some of it is also related to there not being many Linux [netbooks] out there either," Drew added, pointing out that ARM's architecture cannot support x86-based applications from the PC. "We've only got Linux. If you look at forecasts for Linux netbook sales last year, not as many were sold."

However, Drew said he was "far from disappointed" with ARM's smartbook development experience thus far. "I actually think we're a lot stronger because of it," he said. "We now know what we didn't know two years ago. It has taught us a lot about how we work with software companies."

"I am disappointed that you can't go down to PC World and buy a smartbook at the moment, but I'm convinced something will happen," Drew said.

Asked if the smartbook delays had anything to do with performance relative to Intel's netbook-dominating Atom chipset, Drew said he had "not seen that one come up once" in discussion with manufacturers.

Drew's comments came as Intel detailed its Moorestown chipset, a version of Atom that is tailored for smartphones and tablets. Moorestown's arrival later this year — around the same time as smartbooks hit the market — will ensure competition between ARM and Intel in each company's stronghold: respectively, the smartphone and the subnotebook.

Topics: Mobility, Smartphones

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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  • The Smartbooks are a big deal. Getting the full speed web browser experience working I think is the biggest job. Delayed Flash support on ARM Cortex A8 and A9 processors was one part of it, my theory is also that ARM has had to wait for the Chrome browser to come and smooth things up and optimize speed of Javascripts and AJAX-heavy websites as well. It wouldn't look good enough for consumers if AJAX versions of Gmail, Facebook and Flash-heavy sites like Youtube and Hulu weren't able to display correctly and feel like the browsing experience was as fast as on Intel.

    Now though with Google Chrome for ARM and Flash for ARM being finalized, and also even the dual-core ARM Cortex A9 processors starting to become available, performance for a full PC web browsing experience on ARM should be real.

    Once full web browsing performance is working, once all major websites load instantly on ARM laptops, from then on, advances in processors I think will be more about lowering cost and lowering power consumption further, then there would even be the need for any performance increases. The performance increases can be used in server parks powering the processor intensive tasks in the cloud, but the web browser access terminal just needs to have a perfect web browsing experience to unlock an experience that all consumers will like.
  • Clever cloud computing should even allow for very advanced video-editing, image rendering, even 3D graphics acceleration and 3D games can be streamed to a thin client that just needs to run some kind of 3D engine. Even professionals and advanced users will prefer an ARM laptop for video editing, if they have a fast enough upload speed to store the original native video files on the cloud, display AJAXified video-editing user interfaces and thumbnails in the web browser or in an app that interfaces with the cloud, and then you can have a grid of servers on the cloud processing, rendering and encoding the videos much faster than any multi-core local processor could do it. Imagine clicking a button and having 2000 servers on an FFmpeg grid encode your hour-long HD video for you in a minute. All video editing and encoding professionals would love to have that setup.
  • "We know from painful experience that letting a third party layer of software come between the platform and the developer ultimately results in sub-standard apps and hinders the enhancement and progress of the platform. If developers grow dependent on third party development libraries and tools, they can only take advantage of platform enhancements if and when the third party chooses to adopt the new features. We cannot be at the mercy of a third party deciding if and when they will make our enhancements available to our developers."

    ~Steven P. Jobs, Apple Corp, "Thoughts on Flash"
  • Has anyone sent a link to this article to the US anti-trust enforcers? Case closed.
  • Buddy, you forgot to take notice of "a lower-than-expected uptake of Linux on netbooks, and the sudden emergence of tablets, ARM's marketing chief has said."
    Putting sensational headings around flash has become a good way to get cheap publicity and eyeballs.
    On the positive note, you can now understand the importance of Flash that the vendor delayed Smartbooks so that they ship with Flash since web experience is not complete without it. Steve left it out purely for business purpose at the expense of its loyal customers.
  • It seems to me that the problem isn't so much about optimization, though that is important, but rather that the chips weren't powerful enough, no matter how good the optimization.

    We can see that chip speeds have risen from around 500 Mhz in the beginning of 2009 to 1 Ghz now. That is more important in the long run than any optimizations Adobe can do.

    The fact that people don't want Linux also will play a big part in this. it failed in net books, and unless the case can be made for it to the general public, it will fail here as well. people are interested in programs. without a large library of them in many categories, people won't be interested. They must also be easily purchased, and easily installed. Both of those areas are where Linux fails big time.

    I don't see how they will get around this.
  • "Putting sensational headings around Flash has become a good way to get cheap publicity and eyeballs."

    That's exactly what you're doing here. It's getting boring.
    The bigger questions are where are the iPad's competitors? OS? Hardware? *tumbleweeds*. That important stuff doesn't captivate eyeballs quite so much as a scandal does it.
  • It's a fact that Flash max CPUs out. On the other hand, Newsites aren't made with Flash and the iPad is mostly made to access newsites. So Flash is missing, alright that's annoying but not.that.much. More thoughts about the iPad and tablet computing on
  • @Megross. Why do you perpetuate the myth that there is not a large selection of programmes available for Linux, and that they are difficult to obtain/install.

    This is bunkum!

    However, notwithstanding any technical issues, Microsoft and, to a lesser extent, Apple have won the PR battle.
    The Former Moley
  • For those who believe that the 7" netbook ARM CPU 8508 can not play youtube videos it CAN. Open Internet Explorer and type in
    And that works perfectly. enjoy.........
  • So Steve Jobs WAS right after all! There is good reason to EXCLUDE Flash from the Mobile platform UNTIL Adobe really put their hats together and create a Flash player that is mobile platform friendly. As I remember, Steve was not inherently against Flash on the mobile platform. He said as long as Adobe can produce a version that is battery and CPU friendly, then he will open up iPhone to Flash, but not until then because what good is a mobile phone or mobile device when it looses 50% of its battery power by playing a 10 minute Flash video?

    Even ARM is saying the delay now has to do with poor Flash performance. I wonder if some of those technologist will retract their criticisms for iPhone and iPad for not having Flash. I doubt it though.
  • To Moley,

    Linux NEVER even got on to the PR battle. It couldn't. It is a discombobulated and fractured set of OS technologies. Beyond computer geeks, not many people really care for Linux, myself included. Lots of computer geeks like to tinker around with their Operating System. Maybe this makes them feel like Captain of the Ship. Most other people, myself included, don't want to tinker around with the OS. We want it to just work and we want it to be UNDERNEATH in the BACKGROUND so we aren't constantly reminded of it. The point for most people of having a computer ISN'T to play around with its innards (software or hardware-wise) but to get things done, whether that be getting fun things done or getting business things done.
  • We must remember that, since I wrote this piece, Android quite happily got Flash:

    Also, Toshiba released (well, it's about to release) this:
    David Meyer
  • @thibaulthalpern

    I think you have actually just unwittingly made a case in Linux's favour. Just works, people don't want to mess around etc.

    At work, I installed debian to a machine that was used generally for letter writing, 'net and e-mail work.
    That was 3 years ago. People don't really notice what is under the hood. They just happily use Firefox, Thunderbird & Open Office. Once every couple of weeks or so I check for updates, but other than that I just leave it alone.

    There are no geeks in the office. Just a dozen ordinary users, and I simply don't have time to baby a Windows machine - the reason I changed that one after the umpteenth crash.

    You can discount me as a user. I have my own workshop machine. Because of the development work done on my machine it HAS to be reliable and stable, so of course, that too runs Linux (with Wine for just two Windows PLC programs).
  • @thibaulthalpern

    As I said before, Bunkum.

    It is this attitude that discourages people back from adopting an alternative system. Linux is the easiest complete system to use and suits very well the user with simple everyday needs. No problems with malicious software, quick start up, reliability, ease of update, light on physical resources and, fancy that, light on the pocket.

    I use it every day and I am not a geek. I like choice and the freedom to choose.
    The Former Moley