Re: Another botched call by Intel
Exactly! Had Intel bought ARM
You're right about Intel not being allowed to buy ARM. The competition authorities on both sides of the pond would have had to take a look at the deal. It would have been very difficult to conclude that it was "in the public interests". Same for Apple or Google.
Softbank, being neither a phone manufacturer or chip developer, where a neutral.
There's nothing magical about the ARM ISA that makes it better - it has just had way way way more resources put into it than the competition.
Actually, ARM's ISA is pretty good. The code density is much better than x86; you can get more done per kilobyte of program. This maps into less RAM, fewer RAM accesses, less power, etc.
The more important part is that you don't need millions of transistors for an ARM core. I think that even the 64 bit cores (ignoring the cache, etc) is still only about 48,000 transistors to implement the ISA and get decent performance. This compares very well to the x86, which typically needs millions of transistors. Transistors take power, a bad thing in a battery powered device.
The low transistor count goes all the way back to the very beginning. When Acorn were doing their first design, back in the 1980s, they had no money (compared to today), and every single transistor saved really mattered financially. So it's kind of an acident that the ARM core turned out to be very power efficient.
ARM also have mastered the idea of specialised co-processors for popular tasks - video compression, etc. Intel have always been of the opinion "the core can do everything", which it can, but not at low power...
Apple chose ARM for the first iPod, and first iPhone probably because they were one of ARM's founders and had a little experience with it having used it for the Newton.
Apple weren't on the scene back in the 1980s when Acorn first started developing their own chip. In 1987 we had Acorn Archimedes computers at school with ARM2 inside. Apple came later, when ARM Holdings (the company) was founded and took on the role of developing the chips that Acorn had created. Apple sold off a load of shares in ARM Holdings in the late 1990s.
When Apple started using ARMs in iPhones, ARMs were already pretty well established in the mobile industry, even in feature phones. For example, everything based on Symbian was ARM. They already dominated the mobile market by the time iPhone came along.
That goes all the way back to Psion and the Psion 5, 5mx; they chose ARM for this device (even shaving off some of the packaging off the chip so that it'd fit inside), running EPOC32, which Nokia bought and then proceeded to ruin and called it Symbian. It took the world a long time to work out that Nokia had ruined it (the first iPhone demonstrated just how badly), but Symbian (and therefore ARM) was literally everywhere already by the time the iPhone came along.
I couldn't forgive Nokia for screwing it up that badly. It was the foundation of their own ultimate ruin. Had they simply taken the Psion 5MX and shoved a 3G modem chip inside, it'd have been a killer device. Had they paid Psion to keep developing it, it'd now rule the world. They didn't. Whoops.
But had Intel owned it and licensing wasn't as attractive, they'd have chosen something else.
You raise a very intersting point. Way back in the day, Intel inheritted StrongARM, they were at the height of their powers, and ARM was still a pretty small player. Intel back then could have probably got away with buying ARM itself without perturbing the competition authorities. Instead they ditched StrongARM (Marvell got it), went and did Itanium, ended up focusing on x86 and copied AMD's x64. Not their most glorious of moments.
I think Itanium really stung Intel. That was their last attempt to introduce a new instruction set. It didn't work out too well. I think that really put Intel off introducing a new ISA ever again, x86/64 it is no matter what. Yet running x86 quickly is a battery killer - too many transistors. To succeed in the mobile space the really needed a different ISA. It's difficult to see how they could have made that succeed any time in the last 17 years, but they've not even tried.
If Intel got back into the ARM game, their mastery of silicon processing would produce a stunning ARM SOC. They'd wipe the floor with Snapdragon, Apple's A series of devices, and everything else. It's only pride that's stopped them doing this.