ARM CEO: Mobile of 2014 will have great power without sacrificing battery
26th Apr 2013 | 13:50
Warren East catches up with TechRadar
Warren East is winding down to retirement later this year from his role of CEO of ARM, but that isn't stopping him waxing lyrical about the impact that the company's big.LITTLE technology will have in 2014.
Big.LITTLE pairs a powerful processor with a much smaller one, allowing your device to do intensive processes like gaming using one, but drop down to using the less-power hungry processor when it's doing simpler tasks.
Although it made its debut in the much-lauded but little seen octa-core version of the Samsung Galaxy S4, the Korean giant's decision to go with quad core in the major Western markets, including the US and the UK, means that many will have to wait to see its impact.
Speaking to us on the day of the company's positive first quarter financial results, TechRadar took the opportunity to ask if he would have liked to have seen the first big.LITTLE offering make it to the UK.
"Yes, but we think in due course there will be quite a lot out there," he said. "2013 is just too early to expect to see them in phones. Technology is something that people think of as fast moving and in some ways it is, but it takes a very long time to get products to market.
"I'm not surprised that Samsung managed to get a big.LITTLE phone to market this year because they are a very capable, determined outfit and there is a lot of marketing kudos in being first to market.
"But the reality is that we have 17 partners with a big.LITTLE licence out there...2014 is going to be a big year."
East, who has announced that he will retire from ARM this year, believes that the benefits of utilising a low power processor with a more complex one, upping compute power without sacrifices to battery life is critical.
"It is important to get that bit of extra performance to make things that much better," he said. "The Samsung demos showed that, without the big processor, some of the applications can be a bit clunky. The demos are designed to show that and emphasise the point, but it's still a point."
ARM's first quarter brought positive results, and the big.LITTLE successes were front and centre in the company's announcement.
"Big.LITTLE is ONE of the things that has been a growth driver but I wouldn't say that without it you wouldn't be seeing growth from us," added East.
"The requirement for compute performance is going to to increase by a factor of 30 in the next decade but battery size capability doesn't increase at anything like that - maybe a factor of two."
As a company that licenses its IP, ARM has to stay well ahead of the game - and TechRadar enquired as to how the company remains agile in a fast-paced and mercurial market.
"It's not really rocket science," he said. "We spend out time not just designing but talking to customers, our customers' customers and people like servic providers about the services they want to offer.
"We try lots of tricks and employ some bright people to solve the problems and work around constraints . We can't always make the move all in one go. To go from a to c you sometimes have to go through b.
"Take big.LITTLE for instance: we introduced the A9 processor then the A15 and then A7. It's a bit like rock climbing, you don't take all your limbs off the wall at the same time."
Since arriving at the company in 1994, East has overseen some big changes at ARM, and he admitted it was a difficult decision to announce his retirement for later this year.
"From a personal point of view it was very difficult indeed, I still think this is the best job in the industry, but I have given my reasons for leaving. I've spent 12 years as CEO and as we think about the next stage and the five to eight year journey we're about to set off on, if I was still CEO then I don't think there would be sufficient edginess and energy in the executive team.
"I think it's the right thing to step back and allow change to happen."
Of course, given his passion for the company, it would be easy to fall back into a consulting role and keep an involvement, but East is not looking for an active role.
"As a shareholder I'll remain very interested, but I think part of the idea is to step back and allow proper proper change. In 1994 ARM was a startup with great potential and when I became CEO it was a very successful startup with great potential in the mobile space.
"We've scaled business way beyond mobile now, with 5 billion non mobile chips shipping this year we've scaled the operation to cope with multiple designs at the same time.
"From a business point of view we now have a sustainable long-term and very high-quality business. ARM is growing up and that is great fun."
ARM's profile remains a hot topic, and East admits it would be nice to be better known.
"It would be very nice to wander down the high street and be able to see all the ARM powered products, and I would be much more satisfied if my mother knew what an ARM product was but it doesn't necessarily help the business," he said.
"Seven or eight years ago you would never see ARM's financial reports on the BBC website and now you do."
ARM is headquartered in Britain with just under half of the workforce in the UK offices, and it is something that East believes is a huge benefit to the company. "It makes us different from most other technology companies - and that gets us more visibility," he concluded.