The Japanese telecom and Internet company SoftBank is taking control of technology that powers most of the world’s mobile devices (and increasingly more besides).
By Jamie Condliffe
Why: It is redesigning smart phones and tablets so that they'll use much less power and need recharging less often.
Key innovation: Developed energy-efficient customizable chips for mobile devices.
ARM develops designs for microchips and licenses them to manufacturers. The chips offer high performance but consume very little power, which makes them suitable for use in portable electronic devices like smart phones, e-readers, and tablet computers.
ARM has licensed its designs to hundreds of companies that have shipped billions of microchips. The widespread adoption of smart phones has created a huge demand for microchips that are powerful enough to support Web browsing, gaming, and streaming high-definition video but won't drain the battery too quickly.
ARM has established itself as an independent research and development division for major semiconductor manufacturers such as Texas Instruments, Qualcomm, and Nvidia. Not only has the company designed the majority of chips used in today's smart phones, but its chip architecture can also be found in laptop computers, televisions, digital cameras, smart meters, and embedded digital devices and microcontrollers.
Challenges and Next Steps:
With their more energy-efficient chips, ARM and its partners have been able to dominate the smart-phone market, while Intel and AMD chips are still found in most laptops and desktop PCs. But that will soon begin to change. Intel's new low-power Atom processor was specifically designed for use in smart phones and tablet computers, while ARM scored a key victory in the personal-computing market when Microsoft announced that the next version of Windows will be able to support ARM's architecture in addition to the x86 architecture found in chips built by Intel and AMD.