Over recent years, the commercial software development tool market has faced a number of pressures, which – to one degree or another – have eroded the commercial market’s growth potential. Whether you look at the continued evolution of open source tools or just the growing tendency of both OS vendors and silicon suppliers to bundle (or even give away) toolkits with their flagship products, traditional standalone software development tool (SDT) vendors are facing a growing set of obstacles.
Given this already challenging set of circumstances, can the increasing use of an open source OS (Android) make things worse for commercial SDT vendors?
As we have discussed before, a number of OEMs are also beginning to experiment with Android outside of the mobile phone space. Although there are not yet widespread deployments of the Android OS in these other vertical markets, it has catalyzed the development of its own supporting commercial solution and service market – much of which is actually driven by the interest in its use on non-ARM architectures.
In parallel to this growing demand for Android in other embedded verticals, however, we have already seen ARM make real, tangible progress in expanding its footprint beyond the mobile phone sector. Driven by the desire to improve power performance, many of OEMs have begun to evaluate ARM-based architectures and, in many cases, are subsequently forced to consider changes to their software as well. Clearly, this growing use of ARM can help create additional opportunities for Android.
So will the expansion of Android into new device classes and ARM’s recent toolkit strategy cannibalize some of the commercial market tools market? Perhaps. But in the broader embedded market? Not likely.
It is important to remember that most embedded industries are not subject to the whims and velocity of change of consumer markets and – believe it or not – have other device requirements (such as latency, support, footprint, etc.) that can trump OS-brand buzz. Even as many OEMs outside of the mobile phone sector experiment with Android, this is not necessarily to the exclusion of other OSs. Most OEMs simply do not have the luxury to place all of their eggs in one OS basket.
Additionally, the engineering rigor and incumbent development tools established within many of OEMs has created a somewhat inelastic demand – and available budget – for premium solutions. With application software an increasingly important point for differentiation across all embedded devices, this will likely not be too quick to change. If nothing else, ARM may have just taken one more step toward strengthening its value proposition within some of the non-mobile device classes that it covets – for both its commercial tools as well as its processor IP.