The next time you have a great idea for an end product, you should look at bit more closely at your choice of IC: the vendor-as-partner model can do more to realize your idea than any venture capitalist or angel investor ever could--without eating into your long-term profits.
I've discussed the Irrelevance of Silicon and in a follow-up blog (Engineering as Art) I highlighted some great feedback on where we stand on the silicon vs. software debate (I recommend you read the comments, all very thoughtful). More recently I've bemoaned the lack of innovation in DSP architectures.
Does anyone recall the crazy days leading up to the telecom crash when new processing architectures were popping up like daffodils in Spring? I believe BOPS Inc. was one of the last of that batch to disappear, while picoChip has managed to keep the dream alive. Maybe it was that Comet Award we (EETimes) gave it way back in 2003? Let's ignore many of the other winners in the communications field that year. Out of respect for the dead.
My point is that now we're, for the most part, 'stuck' with the 'usual suspects' when it comes to DSP architectures. (As editors, we're always on the lookout for 'the next big thing'). TI and ADI still rule the roost in catalog ICs, though Ceva and Tensilica are making great strides in the IP space. Tensilica most recently with its ConnX D2 16-bit dual MAC engine.
I mentioned this to ADI a while back and they rightly took me to task on this, pointing to innovations on the Blackfin lineup in particular. But again, those didn't constitute real 'architectural' changes. It turns out, however, that the company has done a lot more to benefit its customers through partnership and ecosystem innovation, than could ever be achieved through architectural innovation. Though it took a day at ADI's facility to hammer this home.
Yes, it recently launched its Engineer Zone to help designers and customers work with each other as a community to get questions answered and its developers connected. That's extremely useful and apparently has taken off exponentially (according to ADI). But that's long overdue (just ask TI, with its very popular e2e community).
Fortunately, that's just a starting point. ADI has raised the bar on customer support in other ways, to the point that if your idea matches its own targeted application areas, you can bring your idea to its door and the ADI in[-house designers will not only 'suggest' some ICs that can meet your needs, but will design the whole system and even open up its sales channels to you, where suitable.
Now, there's a continuum here. Some startups or established companies may not want that level of support and the openness that it requires. Also, the concept is clearly not new and good IC vendors have always been good customer advocates, but in an era when ICs are no longer being differentiated by horsepower and silicon alone isn't enough, vendors like ADI are taking this customer support to a whole new level, from silicon to software to sales.
So, if you have an idea, we've discussed ad nauseum of late how venture capitalists aren't likely to fund your concept, you want to get to market quickly at reasonable cost and you have enough software expertise to add value at the top end, this vendor-as-partner model may be your best bet. It's not just about the IC anymore.
In targeted areas such as medical, automotive, industrial, instrumentation, VoIP and others, companies such as ADI have a vested interest in getting your design off the ground faster than you can say "I just burned through my Series C funding and am out of options." They want to be seen as innovators in those spaces. Take advantage of that!