This year will mark the beginning of an inspiring new era in design, marketing, and use of consumer electronic products. With so many mobile products having made the transition from analog to increasingly powerful digital technologies, the question "what's next?" is going to be answered with another question: "What do you want to do?"
The emerging opportunity for OEMs is the ability to design almost any category of digital product so that it can connect and interoperate directly with products in other categories using an updated version of the popular Universal Serial Bus (USB) standard. The milestone event that is expected to stimulate a flurry of new product designs is the long-anticipated release of USB On-The-Go, the recently announced supplement to the USB 2.0 specification that addresses the huge impact of mobile appliances on leisure and business behavior.
The USB On-The-Go specification does for mobile devices what the original USB implementation achieved for PC-centric environments several years ago:
- Plug and play physical connectivity - Compliance testing to ensure interoperability
- A popular industry standard interface used in more than 900 million products to date
It also adds specific functionality needed to connect mobile devices and peripherals directly to one another, namely:
- The addition of host capability to products that have traditionally been peripherals only
- Lower power requirements
- Smaller connectors
One explanation for the industrywide acceptance of USB several years ago is the fact that every PC included USB ports. Within a short time there were hundreds of millions of PCs in the installed base. This, along with Apple's support of USB in the iMac caused manufacturers of typical peripherals to quickly roll out USB versions of their products.
A few short years later, nearly all computer peripherals have USB capability.
As products like personal data assistants (PDAs), cellular phones, digital cameras, and MP3 players become more powerful, consumers would like to connect them to all these standard USB-enabled products and to one another.
One hurdle still remains. Because USB is a host-centric bus, there must be a host to initiate the connection. Peripherals will need to upgrade their functionality from peripheral-only to include host functionality and, in most instances, the capability to serve either role on demand. The USB On-The-Go specification defines a protocol known as Host Negotiation Protocol (HNP) as a mechanism for role exchange. A PDA, for example, could act as peripheral to a PC and then later act as a host to a digital camera, printer, or smart phone.
One of the greatest benefits to the consumer of USB On-The-Go is the potential to connect any portable device to another portable device using a single cable. Such interconnectivity is not possible today because virtually every portable device uses a different proprietary connector.
Today the average consumer with a PC, cell phone, camera, and PDA would need six different cable types to interconnect these devices. Each can cost upwards of $40, assuming they're actually available and supported by the devices. And to further discourage the user, these cables must be replaced as they upgrade to newer models or purchase different equipment. USB On-The-Go allows a single low-cost industry-standard cable to interconnect any two portable devices.
The specification also provides benefits to device manufacturers. Through USB On-The-Go, manufacturers have the opportunity to differentiate their products and provide added value to their customers by enabling their devices to interconnect with other portable components. For example, a PDA connected to a cell phone with location capabilities can now become a low-cost navigation system.
Finally, USB On-The-Go creates a market opportunity for chipset developers. Today's PCs typically include an industry- standard processor and USB host controller based on PCI. This is markedly different than today's mobile devices, which use a variety of processor architectures that interface to a variety of USB peripheral controllers.
Companies able to provide USB On-The-Go controllers that can interface directly to the system bus for different processor architectures will be in a unique position to serve the burgeoning market for mobile products.
With a business rapidly approaching more than a billion units per year, mobile products dwarf nearly all other markets. USB On-The-Go brings standardization to this market by offering enhancements to the popular USB standard specifically targeted at mobile products. More information about USB On-The-Go can be obtained at this website.
David Murray is vice president of marketing at TransDimension Inc., Irvine, Calif. Terry Remple is a staff engineer at Qualcomm Inc., San Diego.