Like Apple did with Intel, Qualcomm is now one step closer to an Arm-free ecosystem — thanks to its Google RISC-V alliance

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Qualcomm has doubled down on its recent foray into Google’s RISC-V ecosystem by co-creating a RISC-V Snapdragon Wearable platform that will power forthcoming Wear OS devices.

It’s impossible to see this news as anything other than a blow to the rival ARM instruction set architecture (ISA) ecosystem. While ARM is – by some great distance – the predominant ISA in the RISC category, Google has put its weight behind RISC-V as an open source alternative. And it’s gaining traction in the industry.

Both Google and Qualcomm recently banded together with others to create the RISC-V Software Ecosystem (RISE), and Qualcomm has also injected cash into a new company that wants to accelerate RISC-V hardware development.

ARM vs RISC-V: Why is Qualcomm moving on from ARM? 

In the not-too-distant future, manufacturers of the best smart watches and other wearables will have the option of adopting a RISC-V-based chip for their products. Currently, these chips are all ARM-based.

Founded in 2015, RISC-V is said to be more efficient and flexible – and it can be completely customized to specific use cases. Simply put, Qualcomm is buying into the RISC-V ecosystem because it feels there’s more scope for performance gains and a reduction in power consumption in the devices powered by RISC-V-powered CPUs.

“This is about redefining the boundaries and possibilities for smart watches and more broadly for wearable solutions,” said Dino Bekis, the firm’s VP and GM for wearables and mixed-signal solutions. “Consumers continue to demand ever-increasing performance and useful battery life from the entire spectrum of their personal devices.  The RISC-V architecture, coupled with innovative silicon design, enables us to achieve impressive new benchmarks along these vectors.”

There’s also the question of licensing. The ARM ISA is privately owned and licensed to other companies, whereas all companies can begin using RISC-V for free of any cost, and can manipulate RISC-V cores in any way they see fit. By contrast, firms that use ARM can’t modify the basic core.

ARM, on the other hand, is still expected to dominate for some time to come thanks to proven performance, and the fact its software ecosystem is more extensively supported.

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Keumars Afifi-Sabet
Features Editor, ITPro

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is the Features Editor for ITPro, CloudPro and ChannelPro. He oversees the commissioning and publication of in-depth and long-form features, including case studies and op-eds, across a breadth of topics in the B2B technology space. He also contributes to a vareity of other publications including The Week Digital and TechRadar Pro. Keumars joined ITPro as a staff writer in 2018, and has expertise in a variety of areas including  AI, cyber security, cloud computing and digital transformation, as well as public policy and legislation.