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ARM's Smart Meter Market Stirs Apple-ARM Speculation


The Smart Grid's eco- and money-saving powers may be a bit of a media-darling topic at the moment, but did you ever ponder what tech makes this all work? ARM is leading the game. Which may mean Apple could play too. Here's why.

This week saw the release of smart meters by European makers Accent that have at their core some neat low-power consuming electronics that make the things tick. Such systems need CPUs because of the power monitoring and network chattering they do to make the whole "smart grid" machine tick, and the fact that this electronics consumes little power itself is pretty important when you consider that reducing power consumption is one of the driving forces behind the next-gen electric grid tech. What makes Accent's machines interesting is that the chips inside are based on ARM's Cortex tech, licensed in this case to create dedicated systems-on-a-chip that make the meters work.

As they're commenting over at GreenTechMedia, though, this is actually not an unusual thing to find—ARM chips seem to be inside many similar pieces of tech—though it may be an unusual idea for the average consumer more used to seeing ARM associated with smartphones or tablet PCs. ARM has, in fact, secured 90% of the world's smartphone industry and about 80% of dumbphones too, and it's pushing its core chip designs ever forward, with faster CPUs and 64-bit tech. But the cheaper, older 32-bit architectures, combined with ARM's good technology-licensing powers and low power drain technological advantages are what make the older Cortex chip designs attractive for uses such as smart meters.

Here's where Apple enters the story, possibly. We've heard a lot of buzz about Apple's courting of ARM technology for its mobile iDevices business—it even bought up PASemi, and more recently Intrinsity, to craft the dedicated CPUs inside the iPad and (presumably) the next-gen iPhone and iPod Touch. There was some excitement about Apple potentially buying ARM too, which made a degree of sense as it was originally an ARM founding partner. But would Apple want to get in on the smart metering game? Possibly. It's not associated directly with Apple's core business, but Apple has its eyes on driving more of the technology in your home. Its mobile devices are just the start, really, and there are long-standing rumors about Apple-designed TVs and home-entertainment systems. With speculation that soon a greater majority of digital TVs will have some sort of Net capability aboard, it's clear that the smart household computing environment is a burgeoning market, and one Apple would seem ideally suited to compete in. The next step would be to add in green tech awareness to these gizmos, and that's just a tiny hop skip and jump to smart metering.

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