Sharp Microelectronics of the Americas (SMA), attempting to establish itself as a serious player in the North American microcontroller market, is rolling out its BlueStreak series of 8-, 16-, and 32-bit devices.
A year after creating a microcontroller division, the company now believes it is ready to move beyond the planning and implementation stage into full-scale production and sales, said Terry Thomas, SMA director of marketing for microcontrollers and system-on-a-chip (SoC) products, Camas, Wash.
"Sharp [Corp., SMA's parent company in Japan] has had microcontrollers for a long time, but it has really taken a few years to get them to understand the market in the United States," Thomas said. "We're not going head-to-head with Intel and XScale. But there's a lot of room for different power and performance requirements that we can address."
SMA chose to unveil its BlueStreak initiative at the Embedded Systems Conference (ESC) late last month. The product line includes 8-bit MCUs based on the 8051 core, and 16- and 32-bit devices based on ARM cores. This month, SMA will offer the BlueStreak family through its North American distributors, including All American, Arrow, Avnet, Future, and Reptron, Thomas said.
"We don't need to run anyone off the street to create a successful business in this $20 billion market," Thomas said. "Our product line has been designed by going to existing customers and asking what they need."
SMA is aiming its MCUs at mobile information clients and industrial and home office automation applications. Through its new offerings, the company is seeking to leverage its traditional strength in displays by providing an integrated controller for color LCDs.
Nine BlueStreak products were introduced at ESC, including the LH7A405, an SoC device with an ARM922T core that includes a hardware Java compiler. The compiler takes the place of processing Java code in software, or with a dedicated Java processor.
SMA is also offering several MCUs based on an ARM7TDMI core that uses a 16-bit bus to allow customers to implement designs based on either a 16- or 32-bit architecture.
"They've picked well-established architectures [in 8051 and ARM], which is better than focusing on promoting their own," said Tom Starnes, an analyst at Gartner Dataquest in Austin, Texas.
"I'm rather excited about the 16-bit version of ARM being available as an off-the-shelf MCU," Starnes said. "I think that could help ARM get some new adopters of the architecture [from OEMs] that normally might see ARM as something well above what they need."
The 16-bit implementation will be attractive because it provides growth potential as performance needs go up, he added. "You've got an ARM architecture that can carry you quite a long way."
Navigating the competitive landscape
Sharp will be attempting to enter a market with a variety of well-established players. BlueStreak will come up against a number of other ARM-based offerings, including new devices from the Netherlands' Royal Philips Electronics N.V.
Philips is a founding partner of ARM through its acquisition of VLSI Technology, and a lead partner in the development of the ARM926EH-S.
Philips and ARM jointly announced at ESC that Philips will integrate a 16/32-bit version of the ARM7DMI-S with embedded flash. Philips also announced it had successfully taped out the 32-bit ARM926EJ-S core, and is offering it for SoC designs.
Geoff Lees, marketing director of Philips' microcontroller business line in Sunnyvale, Calif., said that while the company has had a long history in 8-bit devices, it has waited to move fully into 32-bit "until the market matured. Now customers can go from 8- to 32-bit."
Dataquest's Starnes said competition in the microcontroller market will remain intense. Companies such as SMA and Philips face a challenge as they attempt to increase market share in new regions.
"Japanese vendors do extremely well in Japan and pretty well in Asia," Starnes said. "American companies do extremely well in the U.S. European companies do extremely well in Europe. But once they move over the ocean, their success rate is not that hot."