Junko, you have very valid points regarding your skepticism on the trend with makers and chip vendors! However, I think that the wearables market is different from the general IoT market because it is still a young and emerging market with high growth potential. No one really knows what the next big killer app is going to be. Innovation is critical to success in this market and innovation happens to be a key output of the maker market/community. WaRP has been developed by several companies with the intent of providing the building blocks put together in a solution that address the challenges and needs for wearables so that developers can focus on the application - the innovation.
The other intent of WaRP that's different from other DIY boards is that it's meant to be a platform that can be easily productized which addresses the pressure wearable device manufacturers face in time-to-market.
Makers aren't just the engineers who create gadgets as a hobby, they are also the engineers who create real products at start-ups, design houses and OEM companies. In the end, you're still right - the trend with chip vendors and makers is new and unproven but must be explored. Thanks for a great article!
Microchip is a great example of how enabling the maker world counts. I have long disliked the uChip 8-bit processors - they're Harvard architecture and very RISC - the sort of thing you really don't want to program in assembly language. And yet, for almost 30 years, they've had almost a lock on the maker world. The reason: by accident or on purpose, they enabled a maker movement centered on their PIC product. You could buy them in tiny quantities, they were cheap, and there were folks teaching how to use them - most notably, Don Lancaster. As a result of this, there are PIC processors in all sorts of devices.
Hobbyists often end up as entrepreneurs, and their products will use what they are familiar with - even if they have to hire engineers to build them. Others go on to become engineers, and bring that experience with them. Many engineers are hobbyists, and will get experience with what is easy for them to buy and tinker with.
Companies who ignore the maker movement will be the dinosaurs.
First, more than once I've seen a big project at a large company start with some engineer, who tinkers with microcontrollers at home, say "I think I can solve this problem with a microcontroller."
In these instances, companies that cater to the maker community get the win, because engineers are not going to tinker at home with products that are hard to buy or get documentation for.
On the other hand, I've seen cases where companies only care about the big win. An example would be a win in an Apple or Samsung phone. They make all their money on this win, so the smaller potential wins and the makers are little supported if at all. In fact, these big wins are so competitive that there is absolute secrecy. If you aren't Apple or Samsung, or maybe one or two other companies, they are not even going to admit the chip exists, much less give you any documentation.
It is interesting that you mentioned Marvell, because I've seen cases of this where Marvell and Broadcom seemed to be competing for the big win, and so coming from a small company, I had a lot of trouble getting any documentation at all out of the companies.
So I think we'll continue to see companies using both approaches, depending on which customer they are targeting.
@fredrik.nyman, I think chip vendors do already see this a part of their marketing. I think that's a given. The issue, then, is how best they can seize the opportunity, beyond selling their reference design boards at $99. I think what I am wondering is if anybody found that magic formula.
@Iroee, that said, I think you hit the nail on the head when you wrote:
On the other hand, it could take days to find that $99 demo board on the Freescale website and even at that it might not be obvious that it is actually what you want. It is also not all that easy to figure out that the free versions of their development tools are hugely productive high quality tools. What a deal!!
Chip vendors need to make their offerings more discoverable...
This makes perfect sense. Business folk have never been comfortable with their dependence on the technical types around them. Think about it, we speak a different language but we can understand theirs better than they can understand ours; we are happily capable of creating the stuff that they sell - they are not; we're comparitively well paid right out of college; and finally, sans fibing, we're probably just as good at golf. I don't even think they like taking elevator rides with us.
Why not just consider it marketing? Consider how chip-makers have traditionally sponsored the educational market with discounted tools. I think there is a parallel here: no immediate upside for the chip maker, but over the long-term, they are seeding the job market with people familiar with their products and toolchains.