James Moore: Microsoft is Armed and possibly even dangerous to Apple

James Moore
Wednesday 20 June 2012 09:03

Outlook: So which chip are you going to pick? Microsoft has unveiled the Surface, its much-hyped rival to the iPad, with much fanfare and one of the interesting sub-plots to this story is that you can chose whether it comes with an Intel or an Arm chip.

Now the Intel name is known the world over. It flashes up along with that deeply irritating four-note jingle alongside ads for numerous bits of computer kit.

Along with the "Intel Inside" slogan this has made the brand so familiar that consumers probably feel that if its got an Intel it must be good, even if it isn't. That's not the case with Arm's products, which the British company designs for other people to make.

They're everywhere: in laptops, tablets and smartphones (including the iPhone). But almost no one knows it. The Arm name is likely to induce a bout of head scratching from anyone outside a relatively small circle made up of tech geeks, City analysts and financial journalists.

Thus far this hasn't been any bar to a great deal of success. The company, based in Cambridgeshire's "silicon fen", is another of those little-known British success stories. Its shares sit on a sky-high rating (much higher as a multiple of earnings than either Microsoft or Apple), not least because of the fact that it has been growing at a breakneck pace and has made a habit of beating City expectations.

Is it missing a trick on the marketing front, though? Quite possibly. It would presumably be reasonably easy for Arm to demand that its name and perhaps a slogan appears somewhere prominently when it licenses new chips. How about "Arm-ed with the best" to counter Intel's pitch?

Finance directors sometime baulk at the cost of producing this sort of thing because branding and advertising agencies are expensive – small wonder when they've got to find the money for Sir Martin Sorrell's £12.9m pay packet plus the largesse showered on his boardroom pals at ad companies like WPP.

Still, none of this will matter if things get rough on the Surface and it goes the same way as previous attempts to rival the iPad by Hewlett Packard and the BlackBerry maker Research in Motion, despite some reviewers claiming their offerings were better than Apple's market leader. Sustained by endless upgrades to its Windows operating system, Microsoft would appear to be a tougher nut to crack. Until you remember what happened to its attempt to take on the iPod with the Zune or the iPhone with the Kin. Not many people do, though. Which says it all really. Has Microsoft announced the launch date for Windows 10 yet?

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