I'm just back from an Editor's Day event at Texas Instruments (TI) in Dallas, and met with many of their engineers and marketers in diverse application areas. The undeniable take-away was this: if it relates to using analog components--with or without TI MCUs, processors, and DSPs--TI wants to be a major player, if they are not so already.
OK, maybe you are thinking: a) he's easily fooled, it was a "Potemkin village" presentation event (see here); or b) he drank the vendor-junket "Kool-Aid" (see here), and was dazzled or blinded by the talks, PowerPoint slides, and PR; but the actual substance is far less.
I don’t think either option applies here. TI has certainly already demonstrated strong positions in many of the areas they spoke about, with delivered components, application notes, software, reference designs, evaluation units, major revenue, and more. Second, in the areas they spoke about, they showed just-released and upcoming ICs, PC boards, tools, and customer products.
Among the many areas that TI is working in are:
- Medical electronics, especially for personal instrumentation (would you like a portable ultrasound unit to see where your vein is, before we stick in that needle?)
- Touch responsive and touch-feedback haptics for communications and entertainment devices (feel that screen vibrate locally, as you strum the virtual guitar strings)
- Microcontroller-based digital power control (so long, analog closed loops)
- Power management for photovoltaic panels, portable batteries, and electric and hybrid electric vehicles (EVs, HEVs)
- Smart energy grids, power monitoring and home appliances
- Advanced motor control, with smarter algorithms and with improved drivers and FETs
- "Soundbar" electronics for turnkey home-audio system designs
- Data acquisition ICs and subsystems for harsh environments, -55°C to +210°C (definitely not for the "casual" board designer)
- Superspeed USB (USB 3.0) transceivers, which push the standard to 5.0 Gsps raw data-transfer rate (10× USB 2.0) while improving power efficiency, maintaining backwards compatibility, and enhancing data-transfer efficiency
Equally important, they are investing in all of the dimensions that their existing and prospective customers expect. That means new parts, support (via applications staff, reference designs, software), as well as long-term investment in fabs and processes. And all this can be expressed in two words: people and money.
One fascinating part of the visit was a brief tour of Kilby Labs, named for TI's Jack Kilby (co-winner of the Nobel Prize in 2000, "for his part in the invention of the integrated circuit"). This lab is definitely not meant as a replacement for historically venerated institutions such as the legendary Bell Labs (now gone, for all practical intents) with open-ended objectives and time frames.
Instead, it’s focused on determining, within a 12- to 18-month window, the feasibility of potential commercially viable ideas, and what might be needed to bring product to market. Nor is it a "skunk works" operation without official imprint, and using "appropriated" resources; it has a budget, building, administration, review board, lab space, infrastructure, and assigned people (albeit on temporary, special assignment). [I'll explore the Kilby Labs portion of the visit in a later report.]
While money doesn't buy happiness in life or success in business, it usually doesn’t hurt, either. Having lots of hard-working, dedicated, apparently passionate staffers is a major part of the necessary (if not sufficient) mix. Certainly, the folks at TI are giving it a very serious run, as they try to grow from "merely" extremely large to even larger, and do this by exploring new markets, trying to dominate in existing markets, and defining the terms and field of the competitive battle that never ends in the IC business. Both their large, full-menu competitors and the more-tightly focused smaller ones are not rolling over, of course.
Finally, in case you are wondering about their impending acquisition of National Semiconductor Corp.: it was not discussed except in the most general terms, and can’t be, sorry. Since the deal has not formally closed—although it is getting closer to final approval and sign-off—there are severe legal restrictions to saying just about anything about it. ♦