Lets talk about mobile Internet devices of today. Mobile, consumer devices that offer Internet and media capabilities on-the-go and that are consumer-priced and marketed. I’m talking about iPhones, Nokia tablets, Smartphones, PMPs and the like. In general, these devices are based on an ARM architecture and for good reasons too because the ARM architecture has a lot of advantages. ARM-based devices have the advantage of always, or, instant-on and for certain tasks you can not deny that instant-on is faster. There’s a clear advantage in battery life and even the Internet browsing compatibility issues are being cleared up. The browser on the N800 is a great example of how the experience is advancing towards desktop standards. But its not nearly there yet, and its slow! Very slow and that’s a serious problem because however good the browser engine is, however cool the device looks or feels, if the cant give you your results in a reasonable amount of time, its not worth it. The customer will turn off.
The mobile Internet experience needs to be compatible and quick and if either one of those elements fails, then the customers Internet experience fails.
If you’re one of the millions of people that are filtering through MySpace, Facebook, YouTube, Last.fm and the many other rich online applications and you’re looking to take that with you, in your hand, on the bus, into the coffee shop, to the park bench or just to the sofa, you have three choices. The first option is to find a mobile client version of your Internet application. On the iPhone, you’ll find YouTube and Google Maps as separate applications and on many mobile phones you can also install dedicated Gmail and Google Maps applications. They work well, but that’s all you get. Fixed client apps that are just a small segment of the Internet. The second option is to find mobile-optimised versions for you favorite online Internet sites. For most popular sites there are mobile versions available but you always end up hitting a wall at some point and its frustrating to have cut-down versions of your favorite sites. The third option, and the only real option, is to use a mobile PC. A real mobile PC. That is, a device with a desktop PC processor and the ability to run a desktop browser on it. A dedicated mobile Internet device.
Intel has a class of devices called MID’s. I tend to call them all UMPCs. Either way, both device classes use powerful and flexible desktop hardware and run desktop versions of the browser which solve both the speed and the compatibility issue. I’m not going to talk about how desktop browsers solve the compatibility issues here because I’ve talked that in other posts (Intel also presented an interesting slide on the topic at IDF Fall 2007) what I want to demonstrate is the very important speed issue.
In the video and presentation below, I’ve attempted to highlight two major differences between the ARM and x86 devices. First I’ll show you the difference in time to pick up a single email via the Gmail web interface on 4 different devices connected to the Internet over 3G or better (VIA the same provider). A feature phone (UMTS). A Smartphone (HSDPA). A handheld PC (HSDPA) and a full-blown ultra mobile PC (HSDPA). The smartphone wins mainly due to the always-on feature. Then you’ll see how fast it is if you skip the browser and use a dedicated app. Its even faster. Half the time of the UMPCs.
|Samsung Q1b HSDPA||Everun S36HS HSDPA||Nokia E90 communicator (HSDPA)||Nokia 6280 (3G, via Opera Mini)||Nokia 6280 (3G via GMail java app)|
|26 seconds||29 Seconds||24 seconds||22 seconds||14 seconds|
It proves that instant-on/always-on gives you an advantage in that situation and that dedicated text-only apps can be very quick indeed. But then I’ll show you another major difference.
In the presentation that follows the video, you’ll see how the instant-on advantage of an ARM-based device is blown away with just one additional page browse. After just two page views, the x86 device is ahead. There’s no comparison. Take a look at the video below and then carry on reading… [Note: in the first part of the video I say ‘always on’. I actually mean ‘always connected’]
Here’s the diagram from the video again and some detail about how I came to this result. To get these results I first did my own tests and video’d them. It turned out to be incredibly boring and so I turned to a set of results that Jenn at Pockatables had on a great article she did in August 2007. I then added a my own test results and worked out the averages.
Browsing the Internet on an ARM-based device takes, per page, 9 seconds longer than on an x86-based device.
Test results in detail.
In the tables below you will see the data used. Its interesting to note that all the ARM-based devices here return similar results with the N800 being the fastest.
|Apple iPhone||Nokia N800|
In the x86 tests again, all devices return similar results with just the PepperPad 3 returning a significant difference. The UX, Q1p and Q1b are based on Ghz-class processors and the Pepper Pad3 and Everun are based on 500 and 600Mhz processor retrospectively.
|PepperPad 3 500Mhz
[Notes: I have another two sets of data points for ARM-based devices (HP Ipaq H2210 and Nokia E90) but the results are so bad that I’ve left them out of this test.
*1. This result looks exceptionally quick. Possibly in error as a result of caching]
I think the results are clear. In the best case, the ARM device is, on average, 4 seconds slower. In the worst case, browsing is less than half the speed of a UMPC. The difference over the average browsing session would be measured in minutes.
ARM-based devices still have a long way to go before they start to offer the full Internet experience. X86 based devices have a long way to go to reach the efficiencies and sizing of the ARM architecture. Which one will flourish and which one will fail? Is anyone going to be able to achieve FIE on ARM before the Internet moves forward another step? Will x86 devices reach the required size and efficiency levels? Looking at prototypes like Menlow and Mobile-ITX, I think the x86 sizing issue is almost cracked. The battery life issue is nearly solved too. We’re heading to a point where the difference in power-drain between ARM and X86 will be insignificant because ARM-based devices use the same screens, storage and radio technology that make up most of the power-footprint of any mobile device. Even the instant-on argument is not really worth talking about here.
If you need a mobile, full Internet experience both today, and in the future, I believe there’s only one class of device that provides the solution. Ultra Mobile PC’s
Some browsing results, with permission, from Pocketables.net.