ARM processors power billions of devices across the world. From smartphones to tablets, ARM-based system-on-chips (SoCs) can be found in a wide range of consumer electronics and embedded systems. The minimal instruction set, low power requirements, and customizability of ARM processors make them well-suited for resource-constrained and battery-powered devices.
One of the most prominent uses of ARM processors is in smartphones. Almost every smartphone relies on an ARM-based SoC to provide the computing power and capabilities users expect. Major mobile chip makers like Qualcomm, MediaTek, Samsung, and Apple design custom ARM-based SoCs optimized for smartphones.
For example, the Qualcomm Snapdragon 855 powers many Android flagships with its ARM Cortex-A76 and A55 CPU cores. Apple’s A13 Bionic chip inside the iPhone 11 contains ARM CPU and GPU cores along with Apple’s custom Neural Engine. Even Intel had ARM-based processors like the Atom x3 in earlier smartphones.
ARM’s combination of performance, power efficiency, and customizability makes it the ideal processor architecture for smartphones. Advanced smartphone capabilities like AI, computational photography, gaming, and more are enabled by the continual improvement of ARM-based mobile SoCs.
Tablets also extensively use ARM processors for the same reasons as smartphones. Qualcomm and MediaTek supply ARM-based SoCs to many Android tablet manufacturers. Apple uses variations of its iPhone chips like the A12X Bionic in the iPad Pro lineup.
The lightweight nature and instant wakeup of ARM processors are advantageous in tablets focused on content consumption. Long battery life is critical for tablets, which ARM’s power efficiency helps enable. Performance is also important as tablets are often used for gaming, web browsing, and productivity.
Wearable devices like smartwatches need processors that deliver power efficiency in an ultra compact form factor. Many smartwatches use stripped down ARM Cortex-M series cores that retain ARM’s performance-per-watt strengths. For example, the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 and Wear 3100 use ARM Cortex-M0 and M4 cores.
Apple equips the Apple Watch Series 4 and Series 5 with its custom S4 and S5 SoCs that likely contain ARM processor cores. Compatibility with ARM code also allows smartwatches to efficiently run scaled-down versions of smartphone apps.
Internet of Things (IoT) devices span a wide gamut including home automation devices, sensors, cameras, appliances, medical devices, and more. Their common requirements are connectivity, power efficiency, security, and real-time responsiveness – strengths of ARM processors.
Lighting systems, thermostats, security systems illustrate home automation devices using ARM. Industrial IoT systems for monitoring infrastructure rely on ARM. The Google Nest Hub and Amazon Echo integrate ARM for their smart features. ARM even powers IoT development boards like NXP i.MX and Raspberry Pi.
Recreational and commercial drones have grown enormously popular in recent years. Drones contain multiple microcontrollers and sensors to stabilize flight, assist navigation, and analyze data. ARM Cortex-M cores are ubiquitous in these drone flight controllers and sensor hubs.
DJI, the top consumer drone maker, uses ARM across its product line. Autel Robotics leverages the Cortex-A53 in its drones. ARM enables the computational workload drones require within significant size, weight, and power constraints.
Wearable Fitness Trackers
Fitness trackers monitor health metrics like steps, heart rate, sleep patterns and more. Size and battery life considerations make ARM the logical processor choice. Basic fitness trackers use Cortex-M cores while advanced models can leverage more powerful Cortex-A cores.
For example, Fitbit utilizes the Cortex-M4 in its fitness bands for features like step counting and sleep tracking. Smartwatches with more advanced tracking and notifications rely on ARM just like regular smartwatches. The ability to operate for days or weeks on a tiny battery compels fitness bands toward ARM.
Smart TVs and Streaming Devices
Smart TVs and streaming boxes/sticks powered by operating systems like Android TV or Roku’s Roku OS require an ARM media processor for apps, content delivery, and a smart user experience. ARM Mali GPUs in particular deliver video decoding, image processing, and graphics capabilities.
Major smart TV SoC suppliers MediaTek and Realtek integrate ARM CPUs and GPUs. The Nvidia Tegra 3 powered the first Android TV devices. Roku sticks use ARM Cortex-A cores. ARM brings web browsing, 4K video, and a responsive interface to millions of smart TVs.
There is also growing usage of ARM processors in networking and Wi-Fi router equipment. Wi-Fi routers need to handle extensive data throughput combined with encryption/decryption, packet processing, and routing functionality.
Qualcomm’s IPQ series built on ARM Cortex-A53 targets networking devices. Marvel Armada Armada 385 powers the Google OnHub router. Broadcom integrates ARM across wired and wireless routers. The scalability, security, and performance results ARM enable make it suitable for network infrastructure.
Modern connected cars contain dozens of ARM-powered systems for critical functions like advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS), infotainment, and electric vehicle (EV) control. ARM cores provide automotive grade reliability and functional safety.
NXP i.MX processors power infotainment systems across major automakers. ARM AutoCore SoCs drive ADAS and autonomous capabilities being developed. The Nvidia Drive AGX Xavier for autonomous vehicles is ARM-based. ARM’s strong traction in mobile and embedded devices carries over into automotive applications.
ARM’s minimal instruction set and modular architecture allow even more optimized SoC implementations specialized for automotive use cases. Automakers gain flexibility to differentiate through customized ARM-powered solutions.
ARM’s history originates from deeply embedded systems like the Acorn Archimedes in 1987. Today, ARM Cortex-M microcontrollers power billions of embedded devices from medical devices to industrial robotics to toys to home appliances.
Common embedded requirements like real-time response, low-latency, low power operation at scale, and wireless connectivity are strengths of ARM MCUs. The simple RISC architecture eases programming even on deeply embedded devices with KB level memory and storage.
The ecosystem support including major compiler/IDE vendors makes ARM a safe choice for products with 10-20 year lifespan requirements. Newer trends like AI/ML edge computing are also driving increased ARM adoption in embedded scenarios.
While not as prevalent as in mobile and embedded devices, ARM processors are growing in the server market – especially in microservers, web servers, and supercomputing clusters for research/science organizations leveraging ARM’s power efficiency strengths.
Marvell ThunderX2 powers servers from companies like AWS and OVHCloud. Ampere’s Altra processors target cloud and edge computing. Fujitsu’s A64FX with ARM SVE is being used for exascale computing research. Microsoft has ARM-based Azure servers as part of Project Olympus.
Although total ARM server share remains well below x86, ARM’s advantages around optimized instructions, threading, on-chip networking, memory bandwidth, and cryptography acceleration lend well to modern scale-out workloads.
ARM processors power an incredibly wide scope of devices from tiny embedded sensors to smartphones to powerful supercomputer clusters. ARM’s combination of small instruction set, power efficiency, customization, and ecosystem support drives its ubiquity across electronics.
With mobile, automotive, IoT, and server applications, ARM will continue flourishing for the foreseeable future. Anywhere size, battery life, responsiveness, and wireless connectivity matter, expect ARM inside.