Compatibility Between Phones, PCs, Tablets: Waiting on Intel - Technologist
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Compatibility Between Phones, PCs, Tablets: Waiting on Intel

Right now, what kind of phone do you have? How about tablet? And your work computer? Home computer? Our tech worlds are fractured amongst Apple, Google, Microsoft, Ubuntu, and others. Our phones and tablets run iOS or Android, our desktops OS X Mavericks or Windows 7 and 8.1.

Why do we have different operating systems for mobile and PCs? And why are the apps not cross-compatible, ensuring that you can pick up that legal brief on your phone and make edits without ruining the formatting?

The biggest reason: the chips.

x86 v. ARM

The biggest obstacle to "one OS" with cross-platform apps is the underlying processors. Most phones and tablets use processors based on ARM architecture -- a mobile-first, energy efficiency over speed compromise. Your Samsung CPU powering your Galaxy S4, and your Apple A7 64-bit iPhone 5s chip are ARM-based.

And then there's the x86 platform, the architecture that has powered desktop and laptop PCs since the 1980s. These have always been more powerful, yet less energy efficient. Intel and AMD are the primary manufacturers.

Because the two chips have different architecture, they need a distinct set of instructions, and programs written for one, won't work on the other.

Intel Goes Mobile (Again ... They Hope)

Intel's next big target is to get their x86 chips into mobile devices, and if their recent Bay Trail Atom processors are any indication, they've almost reached the energy efficiency necessary to ensure that an x86 phone or tablet lasts as long as ARM-powered devices (while maintaining the x86 speed advantage).

Intel's previous attempts at putting their chips into phones have fallen flat, mostly due to energy consumption, but the next two Atom updates, planned for 2014 and 2015, should finally achieve the power and efficiency balance necessary to allow Intel to obtain a foothold in mobile.

Until then, expect to see a few x86 Atom-based Windows 8.1 tablets, which run the full desktop OS and are compatible with all of your law firm's apps, and ARM-based smartphones, which do not.

Do you dream of a convergent future -- one OS (and set of apps) to rule them all? Tweet us your opinion @FindLawLP.

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