This week's big Las Vegas tech event, the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), illustrates an important trend. While software means nothing without hardware to execute it and interact with the real world, the value of that hardware is now being defined primarily by software -- and standards.
In my past consumer life, every new tech feature I wanted meant a new purchase of electronics hardware. Whether it be a calculator, cassette deck, CD player, Sony Walkman, or cordless phone, each new capability equated to buying a new custom designed, single-purpose product. Yet today, there are fewer and fewer custom pieces of electronics hardware designed to serve just one purpose. Tablets, smartphones, laptops, and PCs are all really "platforms", and they serve a multitude of roles based upon the apps downloaded or streamed on demand, morphing monthly with each new update. At CES, the main "hot new product" category is the "smart TV", which is really an attempt to be the living room "platform". The smart TV is competing against other candidates, like your Xbox 360, Apple TV, satellite or cable box, Blu-Ray player, and so on (I have more to say about this in an upcoming post, but let's press on).
Yet the change is larger than merely recognizing we live in a "platform-centric" age: it's also about the software defining the platform's success. Wow, is that ever hard for us old hardware designers to swallow! Some of the challenges facing semiconductor companies in our industry right now are related to whether or not their hardware is well-positioned with software platforms such as Android or iOS.
Why does the software platform play such a large role today? The reason is that software has continued to grow in content and capability, to the point that it has now become a primary market determinant, no longer secondary to the hardware. In our communications and content-centric world there are just too many software standards that are critical enablers to deliver the experience end users want. For hardware designers, the goal is now to be the best and most efficient at enabling that software experience.
It is precisely because of the need for interoperability with so many software standards that collaboration is becoming more critical than ever in our inter-connected world. This is true at CES, it is true in EDA software tools, and it is true for EDA customers. EDA customers use design flows to create the silicon that must power this consumer-driven, communication and content-centric software platform environment. Standards are everywhere these days, and strategic investment in the right ones at the right time increasingly determines success or failure.
One relevant example is the need to define standards for low power design where embedded software dominates the functionality, as with the newest products being highlighted at CES. Industry leaders will need to collaborate to get these standards defined and adopted, and apply many cycles of learning as this new battlefield takes shape. Some are already working on these standards, but it takes years to refine and get it right... are we already late?
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