I kinda feel that I am on the wrong side when I am being skeptical about the newborn love between chip guys and makers. I see this being a new trend. And possibly a big one. And yet, for chip vendors to really leverage the power of 'makers' and 'open source' communites, there seems to be still a long way to go.
It's a "spray and pray" strategy, not unlike the turn the VC industry has taken by investing in 400 (or more) startups. It's hard to see where the next consumer-facing hit is going to come from, whether it is in social media or a cool gadget, so it makes sense to spread a wide net, if you can do it cost effectively.
Reference designs and firmware sell silicon, but no one wants to pay for it (this applies to both end users and for the chip companies). The reasoning I've heard from the "business-types" in a chip company was their belief that Maker exposure would lead to reference firmware, drivers, etc. being written for free by users on the Internet rather than hiring and paying for developers internally.
@joe.raffa. Thanks for your comment. Yes, "spray and pray" seems to be exactly where this seems to be going. The question is then how best to cast a wider net.
I heard from a chip executive I was interviewing in Beijing last month...as soon as he posted a reference design (of his new chip for wearables) on WeChat (China's widely popular messaging board), he received a ton of request for people wanting that board.
It tells us that 'makers' -- no matter where they are located -- are hungry and the social media definitely helps.
IMO the key to success in selling lots of chips to lots of customers is excellent documentation. Some companies have the philosophy that "documentation is expensive" and write terrible, insufficient documentation, so even if the technology is excellent underneath you'll need so much tech support to use it that the vendor can only support a few large customers. Meanwhile, your competitor can put excellent documentation out on the Internet, for free, and as if by magic the they will sell oodles of chips -- a few at a time to each customer, at least initially -- but those individual chips add up. JMO/YMMV
As someone who loves to work and play with technology, my chief frustration is insufficient documentation so I am unable to do what I want with the chips. There are far more parts out there than I or any engineer can possibly evaluate, so if I start running into roadblocks it's often much easier to switch to a different part than to try to overcome the roadblocks. If there's sufficient open documentation, I can figure out what's going on myself and share that knowledge with others at the appropriate forum.
When I talked to a Marvell engineer at EE Live! last month, I asked him what his company is planning to do between now (they were about to close the Indiegogo thing) and September (when they actually start shipping Kinoma Create).
His answer was:
"we hope to ensure enough documentation, sample projects, and example applications for Kinoma Create users to dive into."
Based on your comment, apparently, that's exactly what chip vendors must do.