Years ago, Freescale was flogging the concept of a smartbook, an ARM-based notebook. It never got off the ground then, but it may be coming around again.
At least that’s what Patrick Moorhead thinks. The more I think about it, the AMD exec turned analyst has a good point.
After all, the Apple iPad is really just a 1990’s era EO Personal Communicator updated with a better display, chips and software. Apple’s success came not in inventing the concept but in knowing when the time for it was right.
The same may be true for the ARM-based notebook. The question is not whether or not it’s a good idea, it’s a matter of when the time is ripe.
That could be 2014. Android is on a roll in smartphones and tablets. Everyone sees it as the Microsoft Windows of the mobile era. Meanwhile, Windows itself is floundering, especially the WinRT version that was supposed to enable ARM-based tablets.
Moorhead carries two tablets--a Win x86 and a Win ARM machine. The x86 model gets sluggish with what he calls “Win Rot” regularly because it lacks the memory and muscle to run typical notebook apps. But it’s much better than the Tegra 3/WinRT model he carries that doesn’t even have decent local or cloud apps. “WinRT is teetering on the brink of extinction,” Moorhead says.
Microsoft is working on it, no doubt. Moorhead says it could start by providing a better Outlook email client, and more support for cloud storage. In any case, it is weak and Android is strong and thus it appears there’s an opportunity again for an ARM-based notebook.
Today’s Tegra 4, Snapdragon and their rivals are much more muscular processors than the i.MX Freescale was flogging years ago. Android is more mature and Google has more cloud apps to offer now.
If OEMs sell an ARM notebook as a premium Android tablet sporting a full keyboard, larger battery and more integrated peripherals, it could be a nice product for a cost conscious consumer. But would Google go after Wintel’s ultrabook?