Although Acorn and RISC OS in general has been out of the mainstream for a long while now, our platform’s influence still lurks in the background even in times of constant and fierce technological advancements. The operating system and the bulk of Acorn’s hardware may have fallen to the wayside, but the ARM processor is advancing in ways that couldn’t have been forecast a decade ago.
A company that have had much success out of products powered by ARM technology is Apple, an outfit that seems to have taken over Microsoft’s role as the one technology company constantly in the limelight as of late, be it for positive or negative reasons.
Something I found quite interesting was award-winning Computer Scientist Sophie Wilson’s comments on how Acorn’s original work has allowed for a strong Apple stance in the technology markets, albeit decades after Acorn’s initial efforts with their ARM processors and accompanying hardware.
Sophie, a fundamental part of the initial team to develop Acorn computers, the ARM processor and programming language BBC BASIC, was interviewed in reference to the a lifetime achievement she received for her work as well as the milestone reached for 50 billion ARM chips manufactured.
Two decades ago, Apple and Acorn’s situations were quite similar, both in technology and marketing. In fact, Apple were close to succumbing to the same fate as Acorn on a number of occasions, after failing to succeed in the desktop computer market from a residential and commercial standpoint.
“I think we just didn’t have the marketing capability to match what the technology could do.” Sophie told The Telegraph, when asked about Acorn’s failing desktop computing strategy. Apple have both: marketing and technology. And that turned out to be much more useful.
“Acorn managed to manage to stem the tide for really long time. In a sense we did take over Apple; their technology is powered by ARM. Apple have licenses for ARM technology to build their own chips.”
Although Acorn computers themselves, despite initial success in the British education market, eventually died a death on the desktop front. The core of all Acorns, the ARM chip was in high demand through and was picked by Apple as a potential key to their advancement into the mobile computing market.
Fast forward to 2015, ARM do not manufacture but license their designs and processor range to a global market – largely dominated by mobile device manufacturers but also invested in by a considerable amount of desktop and embedded solutions companies.
It’s estimated that the average British household owns up to 50 ARM processors, from set-top boxes and phones to broadband routers and even burglar alarms.
It’s quite interesting to think that two companies in two very similar boats over two decades ago have branched out in such different ways. Apple, struggling to gain a marketshare in any technological field at one point, have expanded so rapidly in the last decade – pioneering the landscape of computing and the way we interact with technology in different environments, all powered by ARM.
Then you have Acorn, a company, just like Apple struggling to gain a decent marketshare all those years ago, ceasing the development and production of all desktop computers in late 1998 in order to concentrate on the development of Set-top Box and DSL solutions before renaming to Element 14 in January 1999, who were then bought out by communications giant Broadcom a little over nine months later.