Why ARM will be powering your wearables

UK giant looks to dominate wearables now it's got smartphones sewn up
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UK based chip giant ARM is about to launch an assault on the ‘internet of things’ with a brand new product designed to be the heart of all your connected appliances and wearable tech.

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Named Cortex M7, a completely different M7 to the motion co-processor Apple used in the iPhone 5s, the new chip should double the amount of power of any of the company’s processors, while reducing power consumption. ARM hopes the M7 microcontroller will be used to run everything from fitness bands and smartwatches, to home appliances, like your fridge, washing machine and so on.

The M7 has always existed, as part of ARM's smartphone chips, but this latest design elevates the importance of the microcontroller element – which is used for handling data from all the sensors in a wearable device, rather than running operating systems, processing video, pictures and all the big stuff that smartphones have to handle.

Richard York, an executive for ARM said: “Your washing machine will talk to your meter to work out when it should operate to use the least electricity. Changing the temperature in your house with a thermostat connected to your iPhone, that is all happening.

"That drives fundamentally more and more performance in these microcontrollers. But it has to happen at the same cost point."

Based in Cambridge, ARM's designs for mobile processors are used in around 95% of smartphones. It doesn't make them itself, however, but licenses the designs to manufacturers such as Qualcomm and Apple, and pockets the royalties. It's had the smartphone and tablet market cornered for the best part of five years, but now the company is hoping to grow market share even further with this new chip.

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“In the microcontroller space we’ve got around 20% market share. That shows there’s huge amounts to gain, as that market also is growing quite a bit more than almost any other space,” added York.

There’s currently no time-frame as to when we might see the M7 powering the newest range of smartwatches and clever microwaves, but ARM might just face some stiffer competition this time around.

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The other silicon giant is Intel, which was so busy turning our PC chips when the smartphone revolution came round, it effectively gifted the market to ARM. Not this time. Intel has been busy using its Edison chip to power all manner of wearables, from the Intel MICA, and hopefully the Fossil smartwatch and Basis Peak.

The stakes are high, so it's great to see two titans of technology going head-to-head this early, to start ramping up innovation and driving down prices.


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Max Parker is an experienced technology journalist. He's the editor of Trusted Reviews, and has worked for Wareable, T3 and more.

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