Electronic Design

Wired, Tired, Expired: What's In And What's Out

WHAT'S HOT AND WHAT'S NOT? Monochrome, gray scale, and SMS are passé. Color, embedded camera, and MMS are in. Sprinkling that with 32-channel stereo MIDI polyphonic ring tones and MP3 creates appeal.

Adding a dash of MPEG-4 and the latest 3D video gaming with full-motion video at 30 frames/s on a 1/4-VGA screen with 260k colors gives a smartphone or WPDA pizzazz. With those bells and whistles, you'll be able to run the The Matrix: Reloaded or The Matrix: Revolution trailer with resolution as good as home digital TVs. This means an i.MXL processor in a handheld PC would let a Matrix buff watch both movies, with more than six hours of playtime, raising the battery-life bar for diehard users.

The jury is out on which form factor will win, smartphone or PDA, because many services are just now using GPRS-based data speeds up to 115 bits/s. Europe's sole 3G-only network operator, Hutchison UK, launched 3G services in March and has accelerated the "survival-of-the-fittest" designs that leverage Motorola's i.300-based technology. 3G will bring data speeds rivaling cable-modem connectivity (384 kbits/s to 2-Mbits/s) while ushering in an era of mobile videoconferencing, video on demand, m-commerce, enhanced digital camera capabilities, and the "next new thing," location-based services.

EDGE's launch in late 2003 within the U.S. will triple GPRS's capacity/throughput and bring 3G-type data services that will rival CDMA2000 1X offerings.

Battery life will still be the Holy Grail of the handset designer, while system integrators will need to decrease part count to load more features into ever-shrinking form factors and do it at the right price. Hardware/software accelerators will be necessary to optimize performance relative to DSP and microcontroller horsepower. Innovative electromagnetic interference shielding will be a must to sustain quality of service.

Designers who provide the exquisite looks and ergonomics need to ensure that the embedded features are a true plug-and-play experience rather than "plug-and-pray."

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