I started using the AVR microcontrollers in '99; only a couple of years after they were first released. Heck I still own a few AT90S2313 chips that were obsoleted oh so long ago. In the years that followed, I witnessed how AVR micros increased in popularity and became widely used in both the commercial and hobbyist realms. As an undergrad, I remember making a case to one of my Professors to switch the microcontroller used in our robotics course from the really cool but EPROM based PIC16C74a to the AT90S8535. Indeed the following year the course was based on the AVR chip.
I witnessed the rise of the Arduino platform (Based on the AVR micro) from its early days. I realized I wasn't the target audience since I was already steeped in the AVR platform and could program it in assembly and low level C to my hearts content, but found it amazing how the Arduino platform enabled so many to dabble with microcontrollers in an affordable way.
I recently took a look at the ATSAM D21 specifications and I'm convinced this is the ideal device that will carry the Arduino platform into the next decade or two. It's 32-bit Cortex-M0+ based, low power consumption, low cost with excellent bang for buck, fast (48MHz) but not crazy fast, plenty of Flash and RAM, plenty of easy to use peripherals (GPIO/Timers/UART/SPI/I2C/USB/DMA), and even comes in easy to solder 0.8mm pitch 32-LQFP packages (along with 48/64 QFP 0.5mm pitch).
The Arduino Zero builds on this chip and seems to even have an EDBG chip (that weird looking QFN? chip next to the 48-LQFP ATSAM D21) onboard that will hopefully give the board debug capabilities. This would make it the first Arduino board with an onboard debugger; a great tool not just for hobbyists but professionals and university students as well! The board seems to have a second USB port...probably for USB Device/Host functionality which the the ATSAM D21 supports.
The SAM D21 Xplained Pro Evaluation Kit has similar functionality (onboard EDBG and a larger ATSAM D21 chip) and goes for $39. Based on that, I predict that the Arduino Zero will probably sell for $30-35...about the same cost of an AVR based Arduino. All of these features coupled with great IDE's such as the Arduino IDE and the more feature rich Atmel Studio IDE is destined to make this Arduino board a winner!
I'm currently an educator myself and I use the AVR microcontroller in my Embedded Systems courses. I look forwards to a time when I can migrate to the SAM D21 / Arduino Zero in the near future!
The original press release about the Arduino Zero from Atmel said 256kb of Flash and 32kb or SRAM. I understood "kb" to mean "kilobits" because the common convention is to use uppercase 'B' to represent bytes (e.g., 256KB).
Based on this, in my column I said that the Arduino Zero has 32KB (kilobytes) of Flash and 4KB of SRAM.
However, the Zero Page on the Arduino.cc website actually says 256KB of Flash and 32KB of SRAM. I must admit that -- assuming KB to mean kilobytes, this does make a lot more sense to me.
I will ask the folks at Atmel to clarify... watch this space...