FORTUNE -- Much has been made of the upcoming leadership transitions at chip rivals ARM (ARMH) and Intel (INTC). But it's unlikely that the battle plan will change for either side. Both companies chose long-time insiders to take the helm—Intel COO Brian Krzanich will become CEO later this week, and ARM's Simon Segars, currently the company's president, takes over in July. So it's hard to imagine sweeping changes in either camp. Besides, it's not clear that ARM, which licenses its chip architecture to the likes of Qualcomm (QCOM) and Nvidia (NVDA), is in need of massive transformation. Though much smaller than Intel, the British chip designer isn't dependent on the lackluster PC market. ARM-based chips power 95% of mobile phones, and the company is now trying to venture into new markets like lower-power servers. Fortune recently caught up with Segars, ARM's incoming CEO, to find out about his plans for the company, the rivalry with Intel and the state of Moore's Law.
FORTUNE: You're often viewed as head-to-head competitors with Intel, yet you have such a different model. Is it fair to constantly compare you to them?
Segars: Intel is a semiconductor company; we are not. Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia, Marvell, etc. are semiconductor companies. In the mobile device, the competition is between Intel and all those other guys. All those other guys use the ARM architecture and are dependent on us to keep that relevant. But at the business level it's Intel competing against ARM's customers. For our part we take that very seriously. It's a competition for sockets among Intel and our licensees, and we can't just sait there and say, "Sorry you lost that one." Because if those sockets are lost, then it impacts our volumes and our royalties. So we need to be sure that we keep developing great microprocessor technology to help support our customers in creating products which deliver the best user experience.
Intel's greatest asset is its fabs and manufacturing power. What's yours?
I think it's the partnership base. You can have great technology, but the best technology doesn't always win out. For us it's been the combination of great technology deployed through the business model that has made ARM successful, and it's helped people build innovative devices at lower cost. I think the benefit of that has been greater diversity in the silicon that's enabled greater diversity in the end product. It's about enabling choice so that as a consumer you can go into a store and go, "I'll have that one." You've got a lot of choice there because there is money available through the supply chain for innovation to happen at different points, unlike PCs where two people have controlled it and the person that makes PCs runs on 2% profit margin and can't afford to innovate in anything other than which shade of grey the plastic is.
Are there changes that need to take place at ARM?
Under Warren's [East, ARM's current CEO] leadership we've had an incredibly stable team. But over the last couple of years it's no secret that a couple of executives who've been there a long time have left. The current team is different from the team that got us here. I've been there a long time. My challenge right now is making sure that the team continues the path forward that we've enjoyed the last couple of decades. There's nothing structural about ARM's business that says the model that we have doesn't apply anymore. In fact what we have is even more applicable today as we face economic challenges and technology challenges. This partnership model is a great way of addressing this. So that doesn't worry me at all, and the demand for semiconductors doesn't worry me at all. It's about keeping it all going -- making sure that the leadership team at ARM is effective, that employees get where we're going, that as the company grows we don't lose the culture. These are not unique challenges to ARM.
What's different about the conversation around Moore's Law today versus 10 or 20 years ago? (Moore's Law states that the number of transistors the industry can place on a computer chip will double every 18 to 24 months).
What's different is that there's enough history to say the technical challenges can get solved. What people now talk about is, now that we've solved them, is it economically viable to use the technology solutions. That's what people are worrying about more now on the Moore's Law conversation than they ever were. Previously it was about what are we going to do to shrink the transistors. The cost per transistors has gone down exponentially. Moore's law isn't a law, there's no natural thing behind it. It's a prediction that has held up. Now people are worried about does the cost per transistor start to go up, and if it does, what do you do about that. There's plenty of research going on into alternate materials, carbon nanotubes, all these things are being worked on in a lab somewhere to keep scaling. But whether you can afford the solution at the end of the day is the challenge. I'm not worried about people saying, well unless the next generation comes along the world will end. There are plenty of ways to use the technology as it exists today in more and more creative ways.
Your current CEO is leaving at a rather young age, and Paul Otellini (Intel's outgoing CEO) is stepping down ahead of when everybody expected. Why do you think this is?
I can't speak for Paul Otellini, but I've known Warren very well, and he's been the CEO of ARM for 12 years, which is a long time to be a CEO. It's clearly a demanding job. It is 24/7, and you fly a lot. At some point in anyone's life you say, "You know, I'd like to go do something else for a while." Warren's been doing this a long time. He wants to hand it over to someone else. We share a lot of common philosophies, but naturally we're different people, we'll have a different approach. I've got a little bit of an age advantage on him, and hopefully I can put up with lapping the planet for a few more years, and based on my knowledge of the company I can keep moving us in the right direction.
Flush with $15 million from Nvidia and Kleiner Perkins, the $99 Kickstarter success story keeps making waves -- and it's not even out yet. Julie Uhrman talks to Fortune about fast-tracking Ouya, those harsh early reviews, and a rumored mobile device.
Still, when early units began shipping to some Kickstarter backers this past March -- just nine months after raising money on the site -- several tech blogs got their hands MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - May 9, 2013 7:04 AM ET
New graphics technology is pushing the boundaries of believability.
By Matt Vella, senior editor
FORTUNE -- Nothing says "the future" like a disembodied head. As developers and designers begin churning out the next generation of games and entertainment, the pace of technology demos showing what types of computer-generated graphics will soon be possible has picked up. And that means one thing: more creepy-yet-astonishing 3D-generated heads.
Activision (ATVI) is showing off new technology at MOREMar 28, 2013 12:17 PM ET
The chip maker got out of the consumer device business long ago. It's now realizing that it can no longer afford to take a backseat, even if it doesn't sell directly to mobile users.
FORTUNE -- Anyone who witnessed Qualcomm's opening keynote at the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas knows that the mobile chipmaker is trying to get some mass market attention. What else could explain guest appearances by Big MOREMichal Lev-Ram, writer - Feb 19, 2013 10:00 AM ET
Also: Priceline buying Kayak for $1.8 billion; how Gangham Style went viral.
Priceline to buy Kayak for $1.8 billion [SKIFT]
I think this a great deal, and Priceline is probably among the best acquirers in Internet history, I would even say as good as Cisco of yore. Booking.com turned out to be among the best acquisitions ever, so did its buyout of Agoda.com, and now Kayak, which they will keep separate, could MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Nov 9, 2012 5:30 AM ET
Fortune's curated selection of the day's most newsworthy tech stories from all over the Web. Sign up to get the newsletter delivered to you every day.
"I am very sad to tell you that I've just been fired over the phone by Yahoo's Chairman of the Board. It has been my pleasure to work with all of you and I wish you only the best going forward. Carol / Sent from my iPad" -- former MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Sep 7, 2011 3:30 AM ET
A curated selection of the day's most newsworthy tech stories from all over the Web.
As reported a week ago, MySpace intends to lay off 50%, or between 550 and 600, of its staff today under the guise of restructuring and shedding legacy business divisions. Afterwards, it's expected the struggling social network-turned-entertainment hub will look at sale options. Some possibilities: being picked up by a private equity buyer or even being MOREJP Mangalindan, Writer - Jan 11, 2011 6:00 AM ET
Intel agrees to a huge licensing deal that pays graphics powerhouse Nvidia handsomely. But, it's not exactly a thaw in their cold war.
After canceling a Dec. 6 trial date to hash out lawsuits they had pending against each other, chipmakers Intel (INTC) and Nvidia (NVDA) announced a new six-year agreement Monday. The agreement gives Intel access to the full-range of Nvidia's patents for graphics chips, which it needs to deploy MOREMichael V. Copeland, Senior Writer - Jan 10, 2011 6:08 PM ET
Is the speedy dual-core CPU enough to act as a good netbook as well as a phone?
A few years ago Palm introduced the idea of using a smartphone as the brains of a netbook with their Foleo product. The Foleo was a ARM-based netbook (though it actually pre-dated netbooks) that would sync itself with Palm Treos which would then send information to the Internet. At the time, Palm was in MORESeth Weintraub - Jan 5, 2011 11:36 PM ET
Coolest thing so far at CES, and it isn't a tablet: the Motorola Atrix, a souped-up 4G smart phone that doubles as the engine for a notebook/netbook running Android. But ask the Motorola Mobility gang (they spun off from Motorola and went public on Tuesday) if they are now building laptops and they get coy. "We are blurring the lines," says Alain Mutricy, SVP for mobile devices, "but we are MOREMichael V. Copeland, Senior Writer - Jan 5, 2011 10:28 PM ET
|Doomsday investors betting on market crash|
|The 'chicken poop' credit and other bad tax breaks|
|Why Waze is a hot takeover target|
|Hedge fund guru says moms and trading don't mix|