MADISON, Wis. — MediaTek is quietly going after the emerging market of under-$50 wearable devices.
The company's new "all-in-one" SoC, called Aster, is sampling now only to a select group of customers. The chip is not officially announced yet, with no datasheets or block diagrams publicly available.
Aster integrates ARM7 ESJ, Bluetooth 4.0/Bluetooth Low Energy, power management IC, and memory (4 Mbytes of flash and 4 Mbytes of SRAM). Housed in a 5.4 x 6 mm package, MediaTek describes Aster as the "smallest SoC" with "highest integration" for wearable devices.
Aster also comes with a comprehensive Application Framework. Its Run-Time Environment will make it easy for users to install and upgrade apps and run them on wearable devices, according to MediaTek.
With an ear close to the ground in China, Taiwan's consumer chip behemoth MediaTek appears to know about something not readily evident to most system vendors and chip companies in the West: a surge in Chinese consumer demand for new gizmos designed to leverage the power of smartphones.
"Innovation can come up very quickly in China compared to Western society," Cliff Lin, senior director of MediaTek's US corporate marketing, told EE Times.
Let a thousand flowers bloom
MediaTek's Aster, together with the company's wearable "turnkey solutions," is designed to let a thousand flowers bloom in a number of new consumer devices, ranging from a Bluetooth dialer to a smartwatch. These devices are meant to be wirelessly connected to a smartphone, a device already ubiquitous.
It's important to note that these wearable devices MediaTek has in mind are not positioned to replace smartphones -- an idea sharply divergent from the hopeful thinking, more popular in the West, that wearable devices will supplant phones.
A Bluetooth dialer, for example, is, technically, not a phone. But the sleek, convenient device helps a user dial or receive a call without forcing her to haul a bulky tablet or phablet out of her bag.
Some in the industry, especially in the West, might argue that calling such a device -- whose function appears to be simply a remote-control unit inside an already available smartphone -- "wearable" is an overstatement.
After all, today's wearable devices, if loosely defined, are all over the map -- ranging from wristwatches, shoes, and glasses to headbands, clothing, and home healthcare devices -- with no killer wearable form factor on the horizon, at least not yet.
Different wearable devices demand a different set of sensors. They also come in different shapes and sizes, as they will be worn on different parts of the body. Their evolutionary trajectory suggests that they will be far more diverse and complex than mere remote-control units in smartphones.
And the fact is, many smartwatches on the market today are designed for just that purpose. Besides email, voice mail, and social network message notifications, a smartwatch can control various functions of a smartphone remotely.
Next page: MediaTek's Aster vs. Freescale's WaRP