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ARM CEO says Windows RT is just a start, launch has been restricted so far by Microsoft

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I spoke with ARM CEO Warren East at CES on Tuesday, who was kind enough to explain the complexities of his company’s business model, along with addressing some of the exciting opportunities and challenges ARM is up against — in short, Microsoft and Intel.

ARM is an interesting company, responsible for the chips at the heart of the smartphone revolution, and the rapid progress of that technology, while not building or selling any of those chips itself. Warren is careful to point out that ARM processors are in a lot more than smartphones — we conducted our interview in front of a few acres of fitness device manufacturers, each of which rely on ARM for low-power computation.

ARM is responsible for the chips driving the smartphone revolution, but it doesn’t build or sell any of those chips itself

However, ARM’s biggest win last year was Windows RT, a ground-up rewrite of Windows to run on ARM processors. It’s a big statement about the power efficiency of ARM over Intel’s offerings, as well as ARM’s potential to move into higher performance applications. Most vindicating is that Microsoft shipped its first computer ever in 2012, the Surface, and put an ARM chip inside it.

Unfortunately, there have been some recent indications that the Surface isn’t doing well, and other Windows RT-based computers have been scarce. Warren isn’t surprised:

"They’ve restricted the launch very tightly to a very small number of partners," he says, "which I think is quite sensible; it’s how we introduce products as well."

Warren is no Windows RT apologist, at this point he’s just glad it exists. "This is very much the start," he says. He expects there will be future generations, and I got the impression he doesn’t expect much traction for the operating system just yet.

Warren is no Windows RT apologist, at this point he’s just glad it exists

On the low end phone front, however, ARM’s bread and butter, Warren is prepared to defend his reputation. When I asked him about our recent review of the Motorola RAZR M and RAZR i smartphones, which compared the Intel version with the ARM version and found the Intel version had greater battery life, he seemed very familiar with it.

His argument is that the Intel version is equivalent in power to an iPhone 3GS, and that ARM has much more efficient processors at that performance level. While that might be true on the graphics acceleration side, our tests found the RAZR M and RAZR i’s general performance to be roughly equivalent.

Still, warren thinks that ARM’s current offerings at that level of performance are "much more efficient solutions." He caveated: "and I would say this, wouldn’t I?"