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Tom Anderson, VP of Marketing
Tom Anderson, VP of Marketing
Tom Anderson is vice president of Marketing for Breker Verification Systems. He previously served as Product Management Group Director for Advanced Verification Solutions at Cadence, Technical Marketing Director in the Verification Group at Synopsys and Vice President of Applications Engineering at … More »

When Did CES Become the Chip Education Show?

January 12th, 2016 by Tom Anderson, VP of Marketing

Last week the International Consumer Electronics Show returned to Las Vegas, where it has been a major event for nearly 40 years. Nearly everyone calls this show CES, to the extent that its home page doesn’t even tell you what the acronym means anymore. So CES it is, one of the largest and best-known technology-oriented conferences in the world. Its sheer size makes it a test of stamina for exhibitors and visitors alike.

When people think of CES, they think of wandering the aisles and being overwhelmed by all the cool products on display. From massive HDTV screens down to the smallest Internet of Things (IoT) devices, this show appears to have it all. It seems to me, however, that CES has evolved into an event that’s almost as much about the underlying silicon as it is above the consumer-oriented end products. I’d like to explore that idea in today’s post.

As you would expect, many diverse consumer products are announced at or just before the show, with the exhibition halls offering the chance to see (and often try) them. Of course, many of these products have a complex system on chip (SoC) at its core. It’s not uncommon to see semiconductor manufacturers announcing these chips around the same time as the end products that contain them, but in the last few years this has reached fever pitch.

I offer as proof the following list of semiconductor (mostly SoC) announcements aligned with CES, nearly all of them datelined Las Vegas:

This is by no means a comprehensive list of CES-related chip announcements; I easily could have filled this entire post with them. These are the sorts of press releases that are traditionally more aligned with the annual Hot Chips Symposium. So why are semiconductor vendors leaping at the chance to align announcements of their new chips with the premier show for consumer products? I think that there are three reasons in play.

The first, and the most obvious, is that consumer devices are now the primary drivers for chip development. This wasn’t always the case; at one time information technology (IT) was the main target for big chips. Today, the number of SoC-enabled consumer products dwarfs the numbers of mainframes, minicomputers, copiers, and other IT/office units once sold. It is a natural alignment for semiconductor vendors to highlight the end uses for their designs.

The second reason is that today’s SoCs are so complex that it can be hard to envision how and where they might be used. What sort of device might need the combination of USB, Bluetooth, wireless Ethernet, and near field communication (NFC) connectivity? Announcing the chip at the same time as one or more consumer products that incorporate it both highlights the value of the device and spurs other potential customers into thinking along similar lines.

Finally, I think that the famous “Intel Inside” campaign is directly responsible for some of what we’re seeing today at CES. Although it wasn’t the first consumer-oriented semiconductor advertising, it changed the electronics world by first making average computer buyers aware of the brand of processor in their systems and then making them care. I suspect that part of the reason for all the press activity around CES is trying to get consumers to demand Broadcom in their self-driving car, Marvell in their smart phone, Qualcomm in their IoT device, etc.

Am I making a good argument or off in the weeds here? Your comments are most welcome. But I don’t think that the situation will change for the immediate future. Chip manufacturers will link their products with consumer devices to give systems vendors ideas for applications and to try to build brand identification and loyalty among end users. It’s an interesting world in which we live, one almost unimaginable just a few short years ago.

Tom A.

The truth is out there … sometimes it’s in a blog.

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