Consumer electronics is becoming the largest single driver of the semiconductor industry. Consumer Electronics are semiconductor devices that are incorporated into products, which are purchased by individual consumers, such as:
Desktop & laptop computers, Home networking, Printers, Audio-Visual Entertainment, Cell phones, MP3 player, Cameras, Automobiles. NOT Communications/Networking infrastructure, industry military/aerospace or servers/mainframes/supercomputers.
Factory Sales of Consumer Electronics has increased from $95.9 billion in 2000 to $140 billion in 2006. Demographics for consumer electronics markets are also changing. The market for electronic products, traditionally a Japanese, North American and Western European domain, now encompasses the whole of the Asian rim,
Figure 1: Sales of Consumer Electronic Products (Source CEA)
A shining example of Consumer Electronic Product is the Apple iPod. It is a classic example of doing the job right. It entered MP3 market late but still it turned out to be one of the hottest consumer products ever because of its style, engineering and cool-looking features.
Apple's hardware engineering chief Jon Rubinstein assembled a team of engineers to design it. They developed the product in less than a year, and it was unveiled on 23 October 2001. CEO Steve Jobs announced it as a Mac-compatible product with a 5 GB hard drive that put "1000 songs in your pocket."
Uncharacteristically, Apple did not develop the iPod's software in-house. Apple developed a layered design chain tuned for an early-stage market to create the iPod. Even more unusual for Apple, it relied on a platform and reference design created by a third party, PortalPlayer. Reference design was based on 2 ARM cores with rudimentary software running on a commercial microkernel embedded operating system. Apple contracted another company, Pixo, to create and refine the user interface, under the direct supervision of Steve Jobs.
The device uses a dedicated MP3 decoder and controller chip from PortalPlayer, a Wolfson Microelectronics Ltd. stereo digital-to-analog converter, a flash memory chip from Sharp Electronics Corp., a Texas Instruments 1394 firewire interface controller, and a power management and battery charging IC from Linear Technologies Inc.
What Apple conspicuously did not do is use an ASIC or other custom chip to integrate all the functions it needed onto one piece of silicon, which would have presumably saved space and battery life.
Digital Consumer Product Design
Attributes of Consumer Electronic Products are:
Cost sensitive, Short Product development cycles, Fast time to market, Portable handheld products require less power and relaxed reliability requirements except for automotive.
As an iPod example shows: Market Need + Focus + Simplicity + fast TTM + low cost + quality = Market
Design not technology will play an increasing role in bringing differentiated products to market. This changes the design flow for Consumer Electronics, which is very different from industrial flow as shown in figure below.
Figure 2: Consumer and Industrial Design flow
The digital consumer products can be broken down into pre-defined intellectual property (IP) blocks of functionality (an MP3 player, MPEG decoder, MPU core, DSP core, memory, GPS, cell phone block, camera, etc).
Figure 3: Consumer Electronic Product Design
The value is in putting it all together and optimizing the design to eek out the best performance, get the best power utilization, the best performance. The unknown question today is, “What shape and form should the programmable SoC take for success in the market, both from a device architecture and EDA perspective?”
EDA and Consumer Electronics
Quoting Steve Svoboda (Cadence Marketing). “EDA companies cannot think of themselves as just a tool vendor anymore. Tools are just kernel technologies that solve heavy analysis functions.” Let see how EDA companies like Cadence and Synopsys are rising to the challenge.
Cadence is increasing its focus on design kits, which use pre-developed IP flows. Cadence kits address application-specific design challenges by combining a verified methodology, packaged in platform flows, with IP and consulting. For example, Cadence provides AMS Methodology Kit that enables analog mixed-signal (AMS) designers of wireless, wired and consumer electronics devices to achieve shorter, more predictable design cycles while creating reusable AMS blocks. The goal of the Cadence kits approach is to simplify the application of Cadence technology and thereby shorten time-to-productivity.
Synopsys provides DesignWare IP , which has a broad portfolio of implementation IP, verification IP, and hardened PHYs. It is combined with comprehensive worldwide technical support from Synopsys. DesignWare IP gives designers a faster and lower risk path to chip success. For example, IBM and Chartered Semiconductor Manufacturing support Synopsys' DesignWare Mixed-Signal connectivity intellectual property (IP) on the 65-nanometer (nm) process developed for Common Platform technology. As part of this agreement, Synopsys is porting PHYs for USB 2.0, PCI Express® (PCIe), SATA and XAUI protocols to the 65-nm process technology. These PHYs are highly complex process-tuned analog interfaces used in today's high-volume, high-value consumer, computer, storage and networking applications.
Thanks to broad demand across multiple product categories, the consumer electronics segment is currently gaining momentum. Electronics industry is breaking loose from telecom/PC centric confines. Technology is becoming pervasive and ubiquitous, just like electricity and telephone before it.
The design challenge it poses is how to deliver user-friendly, seamless, cost-effective, leading edge silicon solutions into consumer centric space and also make a profit. Some of the products successes, like the iPod, show that design not technology will play an increasing role. This will force move away from bottom-up traditional transistor-level/process IC design approach to a top-down holistic view. EDA industry is trying to capture a piece of consumer electronics products. Cadence and Synopsys exhibited in 2005 in Consumer Electronics Show. EDA vendors need to tune into the consumer electronic product space through working with their customers.
-Kirti Sikri Desai