When someone says that electronics design is at the crossroads, this understates the case. Using the term "crossroads" implies that for some time we've been traveling in a certain direction and are now faced with a simple choice: do we turn left, or right or carry on in the same general direction? In reality, the current situation is much more complex because we are facing major paradigm shifts in the way electronic products are conceived, created and deployed.
As a starting point, it's important to understand that the next generation of electronic products will not be used--and thus cannot be considered--in the context of stand-alone devices. Instead, they will be intelligent elements in an interconnected ecosystem, which will allow them to offer far more than the silicon, metal and plastic from which they are made. Apple's iPod considered in isolation is only a vaguely interesting device. What has really made the iPod so successful is its associated media purchase and download ecosystems.
Lots of people have great ideas, but the vast majority of these ideas never see the light of day. This is because traditional design environments make things so complex that only experts can use the tools and enabling technologies, such as FPGAs. Also, conventional implementation technologies make this so expensive that major corporations are afforded the advantage in playing the game. Global pressures make this position untenable; so things have to change.
In the case of implementation technology, very few products can justify the tens of millions of dollars required to develop a custom integrated circuit. Furthermore, in the majority of cases, the idea of creating a silicon chip that performs a fixed non-differentiated function is becoming a little tired. Programmable logic in the form of today's FPGAs provides "malleable" hardware that can be configured on-the-fly to perform whatever tasks are required.