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ARM becomes the engine of the Internet of Things
When you use a modern smartphone or a tablet, chances are good that it’s powered by a microprocessor or System on a Chip (SOC) based on a design created by ARM Holdings. That UK-based firm is the acknowledged leader in embedded, low-power processor designs that are required by virtually all consumer mobile devices.
PCs and laptops may still use Intel’s chips for raw power and application compatibility, but when it comes to mobile and consumer electronics, ARM is king.
What’s most amazing about ARM is that it doesn't even make chips; instead, it licenses chip reference designs and intellectual property to companies like Samsung, nVidia, Qualcomm, and Apple. Those companies in turn create their own chips, and that silicon eventually ends up in products you recognize, like iPhone and iPads, Amazon’s Kindle Fire tablets, and countless Android devices. Even Microsoft has gotten into the game with its Surface devices and Windows Phones from its soon-to-be-subsidiary Nokia.
But ARM-based chips also end up in products you don't directly interact with, like your Wi-Fi router, your Internet-connected TV, and streaming media devices like the Roku and Apple TV. ARM technology is in smart home products like the NEST thermostat, in home appliances, and, of course, in your car. Collectively, ARM powers an amazing percentage of "The Internet of Things," which will eventually be interconnected with apps and services in unexpected (and, we hope, delightful) ways.
— Jason Perlow
First it was Google’s Chrome browser, which turned automatic background updates into a standard feature. Then it was iOS, which pushes free updates out to every device that can run a new version. And now almost everybody is doing it. Well, maybe not Android.
Office 365 (which has its own place on this list) uses Click-to-Run virtualization, allowing it to update automatically with no user intervention required. Both Microsoft and Apple delivered the latest versions of their operating systems (OS X Mavericks and Windows 8.1, respectively) as free updates via their app stores.
Software companies and customers have a strong common interest in making updates free and as painless as possible. There’s still lots of room for improvement, of course, especially when third-party hardware manufacturers get involved. That’s why the Android installed base is so fragmented and it’s why so many owners of Windows PCs still have to struggle to find and apply firmware and driver updates. Maybe next year.
And there’s also entrenched resistance from enterprises that don’t want the disruption that comes with frequent updates. That’s why the aging, increasingly insecure Windows XP will continue to be insanely popular even after Microsoft ends support for it in April 2014.
— Ed Bott
Apple continues to execute
Bloggers and tech reviewers become so jaded, so fast. Reviewing all those me-too devices and reading all those gobbledygook press releases wears down optimism from even the most diehard enthusiast, leaving behind an impenetrable hard shell of cynicism.
Thus the tepid reviews for Apple’s release this year of the iPad Air and Mini and the iPhone 5s and 5c. No, there were no unicorns on stage at the launch events. It wouldn’t be fair to call any of this year’s devices revolutionary. And yet every one was a solid improvement to a line of devices that were already pretty impressive and successful.
Yes, Apple’s share in the tablet and smartphone markets, expressed as a percentage, has declined. Most of the growth is in low-cost tablets and smartphones, which are ubiquitous, especially in emerging markets that are extremely price-sensitive.
Even if Apple never introduces another category-defining product, it should be able to iterate for years to come on the categories it already dominates, regardless of how much those jaded bloggers grumble.
— Ed Bott