Electronic Design
Convergence Drives The Evolving Electronics Ecosystem

Convergence Drives The Evolving Electronics Ecosystem

Many people think of the electronics industry as mature. In areas such as desktop computers and servers, it may well be. But in other market segments, innovation is booming and the growth potential is staggering. The intersection of the consumer electronics market and the PC industry is particularly dynamic, and it offers many exciting opportunities to developers and consumers alike.

Among other trends, the convergence of several formerly separate spheres is reshaping the electronics industry. The traditional computer ecosystem is converging with the mobile telephony world. At the same time, the consumer electronics world is converging with the PC world. The result of all this convergence is a new “mobile computing” ecosystem.

When Nokia, a behemoth in the mobile phone industry, launched its first netbook late in 2009, it crossed the line into a territory normally dominated by PC makers. This blurring of traditional product lines will continue and products themselves will evolve as the merger between cell phones and netbooks accelerates.

We’ll all be carrying small computers that we can use to make phone calls and access the Web continuously no matter where we are. Wi-Fi hotspots will no longer be necessary. The “mobile computer” will include plenty of memory for our tasks, a camera, and most likely GPS functionality.

But the mobile computer itself is just one example of a device spawned by the convergence of technologies. While in Japan a few months ago, I saw a demonstration of an intelligent but easy to use mobile computing device. This small device had an LCD screen and one push-button on one side and a camera lens on the opposite side.

Capturing an image of a street sign written in Kanji characters yielded an image of that same street sign translated into English. This was achieved by searching the Internet by submitting an image and displaying the answer as an image. Emerging mobile computing technologies make these capabilities possible.

The convergence of the consumer electronics industry and the PC world is already well underway. Today, consumers can use either a laptop computer or a television as the foundation of their home theater systems, as both devices already incorporate all the relevant multimedia interfaces, most notably HDMI.

Many homes have their entire systems connected via HDMI—game consoles, Blu-ray players, HD video players, and many other devices—through an HDMI receiver to their HD televisions. With new developments in mobile HDMI, we’ll soon be able to watch HD movies on our mobile phones.

Both traditional computer companies and cell-phone companies want to be leaders in this new mobile computing ecosystem. Billions of people will be clamoring for the latest devices, so the competition will be intense. I expect to see big changes in the constellations of technology companies that provide consumer electronics. We will see new winners and losers—new partnerships and new sets of leading companies—in this new world.

Obviously, you need very fast links, connections, and protocols to enable these applications. As companies develop faster, smaller devices that cost less, they will need to use new technologies and face huge technical challenges. The largest fundamental technology issue besides speed is power management.

Moore’s Law seems to be reaching its limits. Designers cannot drive higher-performance CPUs much further because of the thermal energy in the chips. They will just melt the silicon. For the new mobile world, it is very important to have low power consumption and high performance.

THE NEED FOR STANDARDS

This new world of mobile computing could not happen without standardization, because interoperability between devices is critical. Standards enable many companies to contribute to the deployment of a technology, which drives innovation, accelerates the speed of development, and drives costs down.

Without standards, consumers would be locked into buying innovative electronic equipment from a single company at the prices it demands. Innovation would be stifled, prices would be slow to drop, and adoption would be limited to an affluent few. Think about how little it costs to purchase a high-definition TV today and how much companies have spent to develop the technology behind it. We can only afford new technologies if a lot of people help pay for it.

Test and measurement companies like Agilent are critical to the process of enabling new technologies and ensuring interoperability. We provide the methodologies and the instruments to ensure engineers can characterize their components and devices according to the standard. In many cases, we are asked to write the test and characterization specification for an industry standard.

When we do so, we contribute to the standardization of a technology using our long experience and expertise in testing. For example, we contributed to the HDMI Compliance Test Specification (CTS) and provided input to the HDMI Consortium, the standardization body for HDMI. That takes a whole different level of commitment and expertise than merely selling test instruments.

Our involvement in creating these standards gives computing and communication component design engineers two main advantages. For one, it enables us to bring the right products to the market when engineers need them. For another, with Agilent’s involvement in plugfests, workshops, and seminars, we are positioned to develop solutions that evolve with the standards, enabling engineers to design their products with the highest confidence.

A whole new generation of digital standards is emerging today—3.0 versions of USB, SATA, and PCI Express, along with HDMI 1.4 and UFS/UHS-II. The capabilities inherent in these standards are giving companies a lot of room to innovate. This new generation of standards will enable significant increases in performance and the power-management capabilities required for mobile computing devices to be successful.

The shifting ecosystem will offer electronics companies huge opportunities. We will be thrilled to play our part in the development of that new ecosystem and to help the winners achieve success. We are ready with the required test and measurement tools to help all electronics engineers speed their new devices to market.

I will be delighted to have the latest mobile computing capabilities tucked safely in my briefcase sooner rather than later if it means I can navigate the streets of Tokyo without getting lost and without learning to read Kanji. Bring it on!

TAGS: Mobile
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