ARM talks Android 3.0 and the multi-core future of tablets

Bob Morris, ARM's Director of Mobile Computing

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"We're worrying about systems that are going to be out there in 2014, 15 and 16," says with Bob Morris, ARM's Director of Mobile Computing as he talks to TechRadar about the future of mobile and tablet processors.

"There are some very interesting architecture changes that will be happening as we get further out. It's pretty cool."

We recently spent some time with Morris over a coffee, and he's happy to talk candidly about ARM's future plans and the implications of Android 3.0 for the company as well as the recent Microsoft announcement of ARM support.

Unlike many of ARM's employees who are based in the company's home of Cambridge, Morris is based in Austin, Texas.

"You'll see a couple more [Cortex] A9's that are coming out this year," says Morris, talking about the company's dual and quad-core chip core design currently being implemented by several SoC (System on Chips) including Nvidia's Tegra 2 and Texas Instrument's OMAP4.

"The A8 core was designed in Austin and released to our partners maybe four years ago, you're now seeing it in a lot of things.

Bob morris

POSITIVE FUTURE: Bob Morris is clearly very optimistic about ARM's future

"The A9 was done in France, and that went out probably two years ago and you're now just starting to see them come out.

The key core that will appear in the 2014-16 timeframe is the Cortex A15. "It's being designed in Austin and we're just starting to release that to partners, it will be at least two years before you see products."

Android 3.0 "exciting"

Talking about Android 3.0 Honeycomb, Morris finds it hard to hide his excitement. And it's no wonder given the amount of Android tablets that will hit the market with the new OS – virtually all running on ARM silicon.

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ANDROID 3.0: This may just be a video, but Honeycomb's potential is clear

"There are some good implementations and I'm really excited about Honeycomb… how important it's going to [be]. Every tablet that's running Android [so far] has been where they've taken the OHA output and they've forked the operating system and done all the mods, driving larger screens.

"And anytime there's a change for the OS they have to make it and can't put any of the changes back into the main tree. It was very labour intensive and you didn't have consistency.

"Honeycomb looks like it's going to fix a lot of that stuff, a tablet release with Android Market embedded. You'll see [sales] start to ramp up.

"I think it's going to be a very interesting platform," Morris enthuses

"We're going out and looking at all the different drivers [for Android]. We want to make sure that all those drivers are tuned, just like we [helped] Google. Then we want to get the drivers back into the main [Android] tree. Boring stuff, but it has to be there."

Talking about the predicted growth in tablet devices in general, Morris says that "2010 was delivery, 2011 is all about scaling. Multi-core is going to be a big piece [as are] open OSes, what's happening with Honeycomb, we'll see what happens with Chrome OS [and] what's going on with RIM and HP. We're working with [manufacturers] and helping their time to market."

He's also expecting big things from ARM's architecture licensees such as Qualcomm, who take the blueprints from the UK company and build their own chips.

Multi-core performance

Morris is also keen to talk up the performance and battery life improvements available with multi-core processing on smartphones and tablets. He shows figures relating to Pandora browser performance using Android 2.2 (Froyo) on a dual-core ARM system – a 1.9x improvement over a single core system.

"If you have a 1GHz processor and you have a processor that's running two 550MHz cores they give you the same result on browser performance. But your power is 60 per cent… that's why you'll see this in handsets, they have the ability to throttle up and down. You have the ability for more battery life running multi-core.

"Most of the stuff we're running here today is A8. A9's what you're going to get into more. At the close of 2011 [or] 2012 you'll see our A15 come out and that will really raise the bar for performance. If you're really looking at what we think will be exciting regarding the Microsoft side, it's that this will be a very nice platform."

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