Feb 6, 2019

Adobe is considering whether it wants to design its own chips

Why it matters: Once upon a time, software and hardware companies largely relied on Intel and others to provide chips. More and more companies, though, see strategic or financial advantage in doing their own silicon.

Details: At an internal innovation conference on Tuesday (which I attended), Adobe CTO Abhay Parasnis posed the matter as a question for his colleagues, noting the significant increases in performance from chips designed specifically for specialized tasks, like machine learning.

  • "Do we need to become an ARM licensee?" he said, referring to the company whose underlying chip design is used across a wide range of devices, including computers, servers and phones. "I don't have the answer, but it is something we are going to have to pay attention to."
  • Later in the day, Parasnis told me that there are a range of ways that Adobe could get deeper into silicon.
  • "ARM does afford a model for a software company to package its technology much closer to silicon," he said, adding Adobe could do that without literally making its own chips, including by partnering with an existing chipmaker.

Yes, but: Unlike Facebook and Google, Adobe doesn't run its own data centers, so any server work would likely come in conjunction with cloud partners like Amazon and Microsoft.

The big picture: Whether or not Adobe makes its own chips, Parasnis told his colleagues the company needs to prepare itself for a world of vastly more powerful hardware — and it must move fast.

  • "We have to reimagine our franchise products," he said. "If we don't reimagine ... somebody else will."
  • He pushed for an acceleration of the company's efforts in AI, calling for 100 new machine learning models on its Sensei platform by the end of the year.
  • The company, he said, doesn't need to build general purpose AI that can be used for self-driving cars, but rather needs to build deep expertise in a few areas.
  • He urged the company to create tools for new areas beyond traditional screens like PCs and phones, highlighting opportunities in both voice-controlled devices and immersive AR and VR environments.

Meanwhile: Parasnis said it will be ARM-based chips that deliver those gains, not Intel, whose processors power all of today's Macs and most Windows PCs.

  • At the conference he showed a logo that said "ARM Inside," a play on the Intel Inside logo that adorned computers for years.
  • "I believe we are firmly entering a world of ARM inside every device," he said.

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