The Cambridge, England-based company designs processors that are energy efficient, and the world’s $450 billion semiconductor market has moved in this direction. SoftBank estimates that we’ll have a trillion connected devices by 2025, thanks to the internet of things, which is making every object smart and connected.
Arm is acting to ensure its chip designs are used in those things, and it is also tightening its relationships with the world’s contract chip manufacturers to ensure that the $10 billion factories where Arm-based processors are manufactured have both the capability and capacity to provide what Arm’s customers need in the future.
And Arm’s partners are also launching attacks into Intel’s territory, via initiatives such as Arm-based servers and Windows machines. Meanwhile, SoftBank wants to use Arm as the hive mind that will lead to the Singularity, or the moment when the collective intelligence of AI will supersede the intelligence of mankind. I talked with Simon Segars, CEO of Arm, about all of these things in an interview at CES 2019, the big tech trade show in Las Vegas this week.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
VentureBeat: This idea of the internet of everything, of tech going into ordinary products and transforming them, seems like a big theme for you this year.
Simon Segars: Yeah. You might have a relatively, by today’s standards, low-capability process in a chip that costs five bucks from one of our partners, but the processing capability is all you need with the right sensors on it.
VentureBeat: Do you even hear about everything your products go into anymore? Have you ever counted how many designs they end up in?
Segars: Oh, no. For something like that, they may have bought a chip through a distributor, so even our licensee wouldn’t know what it’s going into. For all I know, ST or someone like that who makes thousands of standard products sold through a distribution channel — the distributor might have more to do with the design than anybody else in the whole supply chain. We did do some estimation of the number of different SOCs being built on Arm. I can’t remember what it was, but it was a large number.
VentureBeat: What’s interesting for Arm at CES this year?
Segars: Things like that are always going to interest me. It’s one of those — take these really inexpensive chips and do something creative with them. As you said, ordinary devices being enhanced through relatively low-cost technology. I always like to see that kind of experimentation that people do.
The big themes this year seem to be around 5G and — this is a consumer show, so you get a lot of questions around what 5G is going to do for people. But for me 5G is quite foundational to a lot of what will be delivered through 2019 and beyond. It’s quite a pivotal moment for us.
Lots of things collecting data and driving AI. It seems like there’s yet another battle about who’s got the best AI right now. The home devices, the digital assistants, the ongoing evolution of those is interesting. And then just the breadth of it all.
VentureBeat: I just walked through the wearables section. There’s a ton of no-name Asian companies in there doing wearables now. It shows how low the costs have gotten, and how widespread the technology is going. It’s not just the Fitbits, the cool western startups. It’s people you never heard of.
Segars: Again, by today’s standards it seems old hat, but you can get a low-cost microcontroller with the right sensors in it and it’s just a coding problem to create a product like that. Automotive is the other big area that’s been growing and growing at CES. I heard they had to spill automotive into another exhibition area here, because the normal bit where it’s at has filled up. Unfortunately I’ve had no time to walk around the floor.
VentureBeat: As far as the edges of opportunity for you — you have your strongholds, but spreading out from there into other areas, what do you think you’re hopeful about?
Segars: Mobile has been a big driver of the whole tech industry for years. We’ve been closely associated with that. It’s driven our road map. For a very long time now, the technology we’ve developed for mobile has found its way into other places. I always like looking at the TVs here at CES, looking at how much bigger they’re getting, how much more sophisticated the user experience is getting with TVs. That’s driven by the kind of chips that were built for mobile devices. TVs are like smartphones with really big screens these days. There’s a direct bleed from one class of technology into another.
Generally, that growth of mobile has driven higher performance, higher integration, sensors, power efficiency. That’s now going into all these other things. Procter & Gamble’s makeup device is a beneficiary of all the R&D that’s gone into mobile. You see it spilling into other things. Modem technology is spilling into everything. 5G will provide the backbone that it can connect to. Automotive, even, it’s connectivity. It’s using the benefits of all that evolution in mobile to create sophisticated user interfaces within the car, and it will drive the power of the computing to do autonomous over time.
Mobile has been such a big driver, and when I see people talk about how mobile’s growth rate has flattened out, drawing a doomsday scenario around that — I think that’s the wrong way of looking at it. So much has come from it, and it’s going everywhere else. Even in laptops, we’re now seeing ultra-low power, ultra-long battery life laptops running Windows 10 with built-in modems providing instant connectivity. Again, it’s taking a lot of technology advancements from mobile and putting it in a different device.
VentureBeat: In that market, do you measure success by what share you’re taking?
Segars: Yeah. In the Windows 10 devices it’s early days, but there’s a handful of OEMs with products out there. From Lenovo, I’ve been using the Yoga C630, which is a great device. HP has a two-in-one. They’re all sort of two-in-ones, and they’re really good. The battery lasts forever. You can just open the lid and you’re connected. It’s great.
VentureBeat: A lot of the big guys have a Chromebook option, and now they have an Arm-based Windows 10 as well.
Segars: I think it’s similar and different. The Chromebook was a different usage paradigm. I think the Windows 10 with the always-on connectivity is a different use case, but it’s an extension of a current use case. People are used to opening the lid and wondering how to get connected. Do I pair it with my phone? Do I find a Wi-Fi network? Do I trust this Wi-Fi network? This just takes all that friction out. It’s changing the way you can view that kind of device.
VentureBeat: I saw Kohler’s smart toilet as well.
Segars: What was smart about it?
VentureBeat: It could sense you coming and lift its lid. It’s self-cleaning. It had lights as well, that you could program using their app.
Segars: The internet of toilets. You don’t need a lot of electronics to do that. But I wish I’d seen that when I was remodeling my house. But it’s not doing medical analysis, anything like that?