Whatever happened to Hermann Hauser?
If the Micro Men were The Beatles, then Hermann Hauser was Brian Epstein. It was his money that kick-started Acorn and his decision to spin off ARM, but he’s quick to deflect praise for founding one of Britain’s truly great technology companies.
“When we decided to do a microprocessor, in hindsight, I think I made two great decisions,” Hauser said with a chuckle. “I trusted the team, and gave them two things that Intel and Motorola had never given their people: the first was no money and the second was no people. They had to keep it simple.”
Hauser talks affectionately about ARM, not least because he believes the future belongs to the “remarkable little Cambridge company”.
I trusted the team, and gave them two things that Intel and Motorola had never given their people: the first was no money and the second was no people
“Mobile phone architecture is the fifth wave of computing after the mainframe, the microcomputer, the workstation and the PC, and it’s going to replace PC architecture,” he said. “If you look at the relationship between waves it’s always the same story; it starts with there being many more of the new-wave devices than the old wave: there are millions of PCs but billions of mobile phones.
“Then the new wave basically eats up the old wave, because the technology becomes powerful enough to displace it. We’re just seeing that with the iPad; with that display, anything you can do on the PC you can start to think about doing on the mobile phone architecture, but at the advantage of a much lower cost. That’s why I think the mobile architecture will win over the PC architecture, and Microsoft together with Intel will go the way Apollo and IBM went with their mini-computers.”
There’s almost pity in Hauser’s voice when he discusses Intel. He’s effusive in praising the company’s strengths, but ultimately it has “the wrong computing architecture and the wrong business model for the future,” he said.
“Everybody in the mobile industry fills their products with an ARM or, in the case of the iPhone, four ARMs and various other bits and pieces just as an embedded processor,” he said. “Intel would destroy its business if it went to an embedded model, so it can’t attack that market. It’s stuck.”
ARM may be Hauser’s pride and joy, but he’s no one-trick pony. Alongside ARM, he’s invested in three companies valued at more than £1 billion: CSR, Illumina and GlobespanVirata, which tackle everything from Bluetooth to genetic research and routers. He continues to back technology in Cambridge through Amadeus Capital Partners, the venture capital firm he co-founded in 1997, and he even has a stake in Plastic Logic, the Cambridge company that’s looking to shake up the eBook reader market in 2010 with its “intelligent plastic” screen, complete with colour and flexibility.
Away from the tech world, Hauser’s head of the East of England Stem Cell Network, and while it may do big business in the future, right now the project satisfies Hauser’s intellectual curiosity. “My bedtime reading for years now has been molecular cell biology,” he said. “It’s an interesting field for all sorts of reasons, and there’s a lot going on – just look at Steve Furber’s project. It’s about looking to the future, that’s how you advance, not just faster clock speeds, you need to put yourself in places to ask questions.”