The short answer is no, not all phones use ARM-based processors. However, ARM chips are used in the vast majority of smartphones and mobile devices today.
What are ARM processors?
ARM processors are based on the ARM architecture, which stands for Advanced RISC Machines. They are designed by ARM Holdings, which licenses the architecture to companies like Qualcomm, Samsung, Apple, and others. Some key features of ARM chips:
- RISC architecture – Reduced Instruction Set Computer. This simplified design requires fewer transistors, making ARM chips energy efficient.
- Low power usage – Ideal for battery-powered devices like smartphones.
- High performance – ARM chips can deliver good computing power despite their power efficiency.
- Customizable – Companies can license and customize ARM cores to add their own features.
Due to these attributes, ARM processors dominate the mobile market. According to ARM Holdings, over 180 billion ARM-based chips have been shipped to date.
The dominance of ARM in smartphones
Ever since smartphones became mainstream in the late 2000s, ARM processors have been the go-to choice for these devices. Here are some reasons why:
- Low power draw – smartphones have limited battery life, so ARM’s efficiency is ideal.
- Small size – the compact RISC design allows for smaller chips to fit into slim phones.
- Cool operation – ARM chips produce less heat, enabling passive cooling in phones.
- Cost – licensing model enables low cost mass production of ARM processors.
As a result, companies like Qualcomm, Samsung, Apple, Huawei and others have adopted ARM processors for their smartphone lines. Qualcomm’s Snapdragon chips are found in many Android devices. Apple uses its custom ARM-based A-series chips in iPhones and iPads. Samsung uses both its Exynos ARM chips and Qualcomm’s Snapdragons across its Galaxy series.
ARM chip dominance across mobile
Beyond smartphones, ARM processors are widely used in other mobile consumer electronics as well like:
- Tablets – iPad, Galaxy Tabs, Kindle Fire, etc.
- Smartwatches – Apple Watch, Galaxy Watch, Fitbit, etc.
- Wireless earbuds – AirPods, Galaxy Buds, etc.
- Digital cameras – Sony, Canon, Nikon, etc.
- Handheld gaming – Nintendo Switch, Playstation Vita, etc.
This ubiquity across mobile devices only strengthens the dominance of ARM in the ecosystem. Developers end up optimizing apps for ARM. Manufacturers design products around ARM chip capabilities. This leads to even greater adoption.
What phones don’t use ARM processors?
While ARM dominates the mobile space, there are some examples of non-ARM mobile processors:
- x86 – Some tablets and 2-in-1 devices use x86 chips from Intel or AMD for greater performance.
- MIPS – This RISC architecture is used in some older/budget Android phones and tablets.
- PowerPC – BlackBerry designed some of its older smartphones using PowerPC processors.
For the most part though, non-ARM chipsets are rarely found in modern smartphones. Even brands like Samsung and Apple which design their own chips, base them on the ARM architecture.
Future outlook on ARM’s dominance
Given current trends, ARM is poised to continue dominating the mobile market in the foreseeable future. Some factors contributing to this:
- Ecosystem lock-in – The entrenched ARM ecosystem will sustain its adoption.
- New licensees – ARM’s licensing model allows new entrants to quickly launch ARM-based designs.
- Proven technology – ARM’s architecture has evolved greatly over 30+ years while retaining power efficiency.
- ARM server push – ARM is making a big push into server chips which could disrupt Intel’s datacenter dominance.
While alternative architectures like RISC-V do exist, they have a long way to go before challenging ARM’s position. Barring a major disruptive shift in chip technology, ARM is set to power the majority of smartphones and mobile devices for the foreseeable future.
In summary, while not 100% exclusive to mobile, ARM processors overwhelmingly dominate the smartphone and mobile device market. This is driven by ARM’s power efficiency, compact design, and licensing model that have made it ideal for the ecosystem. Challenges to ARM’s dominance remain unlikely in the near future, so expect ARM chips to power the majority of phones for years to come.