LG entering mobile CPU market - what are they thinking?

Yesterday, ReCode reported that LG is getting into the mobile CPU game:

“With this in-house solution, we will be able to achieve better vertical integration and further diversify our product strategy against stronger competition,” LG Mobile chief executive Jong-seok Park said in a statement. “Nuclun will give us greater flexibility in our mobile strategy going forward.”

Porter's Five Forces analysis would show the mobile CPU industry is extremely competitive.  Intel can't even buy its way into mobile.  The size of the market is also limited because Apple and Samsung already design their own processors.  Although LG have experience in microelectronics, they don't have much of a semiconductor business.  They will be contracting wafer fabrication to TSMC rather than spending billions on a foundry, but bringing any semiconductor to market is still an expensive, time-consuming, and risky endeavor.

So what the heck is LG thinking?  It has to be all about differentiating their own mobile devices.  LG has been a distant fifth in smartphone market share at around 5% for a few years.  Perhaps this is their way of doubling down on the smartphone market to combat Samsung and lower-priced devices from Chinese rivals.

However, I can't help but wonder if end-users will really notice enough to drive sales.  I'd argue that an easier and perhaps more effective way to differentiate their devices would be to design a custom image sensor for a new camera design, or a new power management subsystem for longer battery life or faster charging.  On the other hand, HTC is continually praised for best in class audio and that hasn't done much for sales of the One.  Maybe LG should just spend the money on marketing?  HTC tried that too with a $1B ad campaign starring Robert Downey Jr.

No Android vendors have been able to meaningfully differentiate on software.  Motorola made a few nice enhancements to the Moto X, but sales still lagged.  Samsung's Note line does have some large-screen-specific software features that help set the device apart.  Most vendor's software tweaks are criticized by reviewers, who seem to prefer stock Android.

LG knows all this.  Maybe in their quest to set themselves apart, they've chosen an expensive and risky strategy to differentiate on the brains of the smartphone.  We'll see in a few weeks when the LG G3 Screen goes on sale in Korea.

Thoughts on ARM powered Macs

There has been a fair amount of discussion and speculation on when or if Apple could build a Mac computer with a CPU designed around an ARM core.  The A-series of CPUs that power the iPhone and iPad are designed around an ARM core, as are the CPUs of virtually all smartphones and tablets and millions of other devices.  Most laptop and desktop computers are built around an x86 CPU from Intel or AMD, whether they run Windows, OS X, Linux, or some other OS.  The ARM powered Mac discussion seems to center around benchmarking Apple's current A-series CPU against an Intel CPU and pointing out how Apple's designs are inferior to Intel's.  However, I think these discussions may be missing the point. Rather than predicting when an ARM CPU may be powerful enough for a Macbook as we know it, I'd rather speculate on what type of device Apple could build around a state of the art A-series CPU.  Could they build a laptop that would perform similar functions to a Chromebook?  How about an 'iPad Pro' with more productivity features that could replace a laptop for some people?

An ARM based laptop would have to forego a lot of legacy technology, but Apple has never been shy about doing this.  I can imagine a device with only the same I/O as an iPad, meaning no USB or Thunderbolt connectors, video outputs, or SD card readers.  The Lightning port could be used for charging and some peripherals, but anything else would be connected over wifi or bluetooth.  This device could run apps from the App Store.  It wouldn't be able to run OS X apps from the Mac App Store or boot to Windows.  It could feature a more usable multitasking interface than iOS does currently.  It may not even have a touchscreen.  This device could be even thinner and lighter than a Macbook Air and get better battery life.  I'd imagine the starting price would be somewhere around $750.

An 'iPad Pro' would be more than just a larger iPad.  It could feature native support for keyboards (whether attached as part of an official case or through bluetooth), the ability to view two apps at once, and improved multitasking.  It would be used primarily as a tablet with touchscreen input, but the keyboard could be used for typing, navigation, gaming, etc if the user desired.  I'd also see this device starting at around $750.

Maybe these two devices could even be the same thing.  I believe the point is this:  if Apple were to introduce an ARM powered Mac they wouldn't try to cram all of the Macbook's legacy ports, backwards compatibility, etc into it.  They'd design a device from the ground up for a specific set of use cases.  Just like the iPad is fully capable of replacing a laptop for some small portion of users, an ARM-powered device with native keyboard support could replace a laptop for many more.