Samsung, Apple to fuel ARM licensing pop

A 64-bit processor for the iPhone 5S and Samsung support of a multi-core processing architecture translates into licensing revenue for ARM Holdings.
Written by Larry Dignan, Contributor

ARM Holdings is having a good week as its architecture---and licensing revenue---is likely to receive a boost from Apple and Samsung.

The momentum for ARM comes amid Intel's developer powwow in San Francisco. The key events for ARM go like this:

Apple on Tuesday outlined 64-bit processors to power the iPhone 5S. These processors are likely to boost licensing to ARM, which will take a cut of every iPhone 5S sold. The 64-bit chip is needed for gaming, fingerprint identification and other goodies in the iPhone 5S. However, Jason Perlow noted that Apple's repeated use of "desktop class" to describe its 64-bit processor may point to a ARM Mac at some point. It's unclear whether Apple would completely break away from Intel, but such an outcome would be a hit to the chip giant. Also: The iPhone 5S goes 64-bit: Will it matter?

Jefferies analyst Lee Simpson also laid out the Apple-ARM connection. He said:

The design of the Apple A7 processor in ARMv8 (32, 64-bit) is a coup for ARM and ahead of many expectations. This makes the iPhone5S the first 64-bit enabled smartphone, which means it will come with a minimum 2% royalty rate (say 45c per phone) for ARM.

Samsung said its Exynos 5 Octa processor would supports ARM's big.Little architecture. Add it up and ARM licenses both Cortex A7 and Cortex A15 processors. As Samsung rolls out tools in the fourth quarter other vendors will follow.



ARM executives were recently in the CBS Interactive offices in New York. Among the key points from my interview with ARM executives:

Graphics: Jem Davies, ARM Fellow and vice president of technology, has been spending most of his time growing the company's graphics business. The prevailing theme: How do you squeeze media processing down so "we can put enticing pictures on a screen with less power?"

To that end, ARM has made a lot of headway, but the real win will be something Davies calls "computer vision." "We want to teach devices to see. We can do that, but it takes a lot of computation," said Davies.

Doesn't the GPU move compete with customer Nvidia? Yes and no. Nvidia has its own GPUs, but licenses from ARM too. "We cooperate and compete with a number of partners (on architecture)," said Davies. "That's a well trodden area."



Internet of things: One of the key initiatives for ARM revolves around embedded chips that can go in everything from sensors to wearables to cars. To that end, ARM has been filling out its portfolio with small acquisitions---think Sensinode. "As an organization we see things like wearables and the Internet of things as a fantastic opportunity," said Noel Hurley, vice president of marketing and strategy at ARM's processor division.

The post-PC era: I discussed the post-PC era and wondered why it has been so difficult for OEMs to go mobile. Hurley said the problem is largely because PC makers are wedded to a form factor. "It's hard to innovate when you're working off a couple reference designs from one or two companies," said Hurley. The ARM ecosystem has a wide range of chip companies. Davies added that ARM doesn't care about form factor. Servers, PCs, tablets, smartphones and sensors all look the same in a licensing model, he said.

Enterprise servers: Hurley argued that the server market would specialize and HP Moonshot could be the catalyst. "HP brings knowledge and understanding of the entire enterprise and many vendors will engage with Moonshot," said Hurley. Indeed, HP is planning servers based on a bevy of specialized uses from the likes of Texas Instruments, Calxeda and AMD as well as Intel. ARM will benefit with server market share should Moonshot deliver for HP. ARM's server share will take time to develop. Why? It's harder to enter a mature market. Greenfield markets such as wearables and TVs are ripe for ARM to enter.

Related Intel developments:

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