A roundup of the important news stories that caught my eyes over the past six days. These include Apple's WWDC 2012, Microsoft's rumoured decision to manufacture its own tablet, Nokia's changing fortunes and perhaps, IMHO, the most important story of the year so far, the launch of the Heterogeneous Systems Architecture foundation.
AMD, ARM, Imagination Technologies, MediaTek and Texas Instruments announced the launched of the HSA foundation (note that there are three other empty hexagons - my bet on Microsoft, Ubuntu and Nvidia filling these). This is perhaps the biggest news in technology since Steve Ballmer announced that Microsoft would port Windows to ARM back in January 2011 at CES. It is THAT big.
In a nutshell, the HSA foundation tries to "create a Unified, Open Industry Standard Architecture for Heterogeneous Processing" as the computing world moves to an ecosystem where the GPU (graphics processing unit) plays an increasingly more diverse role and challenges the hegemony of the CPU (central processing unit). This has very wide implications and could affect products from embedded devices up to super computers and everything in between. That AMD and ARM would collaborate isn't a surprise.
We hinted at that back in April 2011 when we noticed that AMD had invited ARM to talk about Heterogeneous Computing at its annual AMD Fusion Developer Summit (AFDS) and a couple of months later, we noted that AMD had opened an Israeli R&D center (after its acquisition of Graphic Remedy), one which would specialise in heterogeneous computing. What is a surprise though is to see Imagination Technologies, Mediatek and Texas Instruments joining forces as well.
ARM, UK-based Imagination Technologies and AMD have competing GPU technologies but have decided to put their rivalries aside to worth on a common approach to heterogenous computing that includes x86 but leaves out both Nvidia and Intel. We're not sure where Mediatek and Texas Instruments fit in. Both are historically Imagination Technologies customers (when it comes to GPU) but use ARM architecture for the CPU. Maybe they will be the first silicon partners of a probable hybrid monster and it is very interesting to note that both a US and a Chinese company were included. Very wise move indeed.
The Apple Worldwide Developer Conference which took place over five days starting last Monday was the first one since the company's iconic CEO, Steve Jobs, passed away in October 2011. The biggest announcement on the day (during a keynote that lasted more than two hours) was the new Apple Macbook Pro with Retina Display which Tim Cook presented as the future of Apple professional laptop range. At £1799, it is expensive but we believe that it is worth every pound and is actually good value for money, we've even tried to get a Windows equivalent without any success.
Its main selling point is that five megapixel display squeezed in a 15in diagonal and given that lead times for the laptop have risen to four weeks, the new MacBook Pro seems to be selling pretty well indeed. The other big announcement of the night was Apple confirming that iOS 6 (and therefore the iPhone 5) would come in autumn with a plethora of new features including 92 listed and categorised with native Facebook integration, a Passbook App, a built in turn-by-turn SatNav, Facetime on 3G and much more.
Nokia is now the shadow of the company that once controlled the smartphone market and like Research in Motion, it has taken drastic steps to try and save its fortunes. It announced that it will sack 10,000 of its employees. The company lost over 90 per cent of its market capitalisation over the last four years and is worth less than $10 billion down from $154 billion in December 2007. Nokia's fate is very similar to Canadian manufacturer RIM whose market capitalisation fell to around $5.71 billion on Friday. In their heydays, both companies had a combined value of more than $220 billion.
They're now worth less than a tenth of that and should become easy targets by the beginning of the second half of the year for the likes of Oracle, Cisco or even Microsoft. The latter has been named as one of the potential acquirers of the Finnish company, a distinct possibility given that Microsoft is also partnering with Nokia on the Windows Lumia smartphone range and one that could become a reality should Microsoft faithfully follow Apple, Google (and Sony's) footsteps with a dual smartphone/tablet strategy, which nicely brings us to the next big story of the week.
If All Things Digital is to be believed, Microsoft will make some major announcement concerning its tablet strategy over the forthcoming days with the software giant likely to announce its own tablet (or tablet range). Such a shift in strategy would see Microsoft aligning itself with Apple and probably Google who is also rumoured to launch its own tablet. It could also send shock waves across the industry as Microsoft has traditionally shied away from competing directly with its hardware partners with the Xbox and its range of peripherals being the only exceptions.
The arrival of this 900-lb gorilla is likely to make Intel queasy given that Microsoft has an architectural ARM license and could, if it wanted to, launch its own processor like Apple did with the A4. The new tablet is likely to be ARM-based rather than x86 based with Windows RT being the chosen OS. This would allow Microsoft to start anew like Apple when it moved from PowerPC to Intel, shearing links with legacy x86-based applications in a bid to produce a nimbler, more agile platform capable of running both mobile and non-mobile devices. Ironically, Microsoft might use the pressing challenges of Apple and Microsoft as the leitmotiv behind its move to extend its control on the Windows ecosystem beyond software.