ARM’s Jesse Barker on SIGGRAPH 2014 and Mobile

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ARM’s Jesse Barker shares his insight into the rapidly expanding mobile space, as well as some of the technology powering its evolution. In this interview from SIGGRAPH 2014, Jesse and Steve Waskul discuss Jesse’s role as the SIGGRAPH Mobile Chair and continue with what he sees for the future of the mobile marketplace and ARM’s role in that progression.

Steve gets the conversation rolling with a simple question, “What’s new this year?” As Mobile Chair for SIGGRAPH, Jesse has been excited to work with Dave Shreiner on some new initiatives, like the “Appy Hour” showcasing independent mobile developers. His interest was especially piqued by a group of guys who developed “vision enhancement technology for the legally blind.” This technology, Jesse explains, enables visually impaired people to better detect shapes and contours in their environment. It’s a “very human story,” Steve nods. Yes, Jesse replies, the point is to get people to interact with the technology, so this is really an AR type of device. Currently they’re working on trying to introduce this technology into mobile devices. “This year there’s a lot of emphasis on technology that improves the human experience.”

So, Steve interjects, you’re signed on for 2015? Yes, Jesse imparts, and he’s already planning on ways to improve attendee and submitter awareness of the mobile space. For 2016, however, Jesse will step-down so someone else’s vision can take over and keep things fresh. The men also discuss how each overall Conference Chair has the ability to “put their own fingerprints” on the SIGGRAPH experience. In that regard, Jessie is currently working with next year’s Chair, Marc Barr, on some fresh ideas for 2015.

Moving the conversation in a new direction, Steve expresses his excitement for the mobile space, especially considering how fast more and more things are becoming mobile. Nodding in agreement, Jesse rejoins, “The quickest thing that changes is our expectations.” Considering his position at ARM, Jesse believes they are at the center of a mobile ecosystem that is constantly trying to meet or exceed user expectations. To Steve’s point, he adds that the mobile GPU market is pushing about a billion chips a year. Just thinking about the people walking around at SIGGRAPH, he continues, most of them probably have several mobile devices in their briefcases- something he contrasts to the number of desktop solutions individuals own.

At this point Steve mentions the VR/AR competition at SIGGRAPH. “A lot of this stuff would be mobile, right?” Yes, Jesse agrees, even the VR. “There are levels of immersion that are hard to carry around,” he contends, sharing his experience with a bird simulator (Birdly) that recently won a contest at another VR conference and was a big hit at SIGGRAPH 2014. Even though mobile capability isn’t quite there yet for this level of immersion, there is still a lot going on. Developers are finding clever ways of combining varied functions on mobile devices, Jesse explains. The compute power will continue to go up.

“So when you think about the mobile market,” Steve inquires, what is the most exciting or powerful thing that you think will come out? While it’s difficult “to see the next big thing,” Jesse considers, there are two things that come to mind. Thinking about his early career at Silicon Graphics, he’s amazed to see the progression of the real-time graphics industry. What his phone can do now is equal if not better to what his SGI computers could do back then. Secondly, Jesse’s pretty sure that AR/VR is going to be huge. We’re going to move beyond what most people think of as AR: restaurants popping onto their phone maps in locator apps. “Once the form factors have a chance to reduce” on things like AR apps designed for visually impaired people, he continues, the lifestyle enhancement apps will result.

Do you look at the potential of perceptual computing with mobile devices now since there are some pretty robust processors? Steve wonders. Yes, Jessie answers, new devices often handle things like multiple HD streams. But, he continues, there are inherent problems in that. For example, your mobile device can’t operate at 100% because “nobody wants to burn a hole in their pocket.” Battery life for these high-powered devices is another area that needs more focus to match consumer’s expectations. “We have this holy grail idea that you should pretty much be able to wake up in the morning, grab your device and go.”

“So in your old days at SGI,” Steve asks, you really had to be careful with memory management, right? Is this still a problem you’re seeing with mobile devices? Well, Jessie replies, we do have much higher densities for memory storage now, but when you look at the most expensive thing in your power budget, memory’s a big one. A lot of our work has to do with keeping memory transfers to a minimum, and this is an ecosystem problem that our partners share. But, he acknowledges, it’s great to be part of a community that is working together to solve these problems.

It seems like a lot of people want multiple apps open at once, Steve comments. Does this make it harder because there’s competition for the same amount of resources? Nodding, Jesse concedes that we have to do things much smarter now. For example, ARM has been working on heterogeneous computing, where you have “architecturally compatible processors with different capabilities.” Teaching the operating system to intelligently switch between the power-efficient and performance processors, he explains, will make a big difference in being able to run apps simultaneously.

Wrapping up the discussion, Steve asks, “Do you see an end-to-end ARM solution” where someone’s mobile devices will communicate with devices in the home to make things come to life as he needs them? “Absolutely,” Jesse responds. There’s probably someone out there who has already made this happen. “This is a big story,” he smiles. In his final thoughts, Jesse shares that he is excited to see what developers will come up with in the near future and is looking forward to further growth in the mobile space.