TORONTO -- The Internet of Things (IoT) and wearable devices are putting even more pressure on memory to consume less power -- even beyond the requirements of today’s smartphones and tablets. They also have other specific needs, depending on the use-case.
Requirements vary significantly with IoT, according to Hung Vuong, chairman of JEDEC’s JC-42.6 Subcommittee for Low Power Memories. Criteria such as packaging and size, integration, interface, low power, low voltage, density, performance, and temperature are all factors. Beyond smartphones and tablets, there are consistent needs driving demand for lower power memory from all industries, he says, including the automotive and the wearables industry, albeit to different degrees.
For wearables and sensors, for example, density and performance are not necessarily the driving requirements. Typically, Vuong says, these devices do not have high-level output specifications, nor do they need to store large amounts of content. The major drivers for these applications typically are size, power, and simplicity. He says JEDEC’s approach to addressing new use-cases for low-power memory has always been demand driven. As these use cases mature in the market, JEDEC will establish a committee or technical group to address them as needed by the industry.
“What the industry is trying to do is take your laptop computer or your tablet or smartphone and shrink it down so it fits on your eyes, your wrist, any other part of your body,” says IDC analyst Ramon Ramirez, who covers the emerging wearables segment. One of the big challenges, he says, is how to make these devices last more than one day. “No one wants a wearable that they have to take off and charge multiple times a day.”
Add to that the sensors, the UI, and the overall experience requirements. “The pressure this puts on memory is absolutely tremendous,” says Ramirez. The first generation of wearables such as Fitbits and Pebble watches are very simple, he says, but they are the blueprints of what’s to come. The future smart watch is going to be essentially a smartphone in a smaller form factor. “When it comes to the second- or third-generation devices, we’re going to ask them to do a lot more.”
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Ramirez says memory for smartphones and tablets is fairly commoditized and standardized, but given the variety of use cases for wearables and IoT, devices are going to be very application-specific, and it’s unlikely one vendor will be able to meet all the needs of every device.
Adesto Technologies is one company looking to address the low-power memory requirements of wearables and other small devices such as sensors. The company recently introduced a line of wide-voltage range, ultra-low-power serial flash memory products aimed at a wearable, mobile, and other energy-conscious applications.
Adesto serial flash memory products are aimed at ultra-low-power applications.
Narbeh Derhacobian, Adesto’s president and CEO, says commodity memory is not going to be sufficient for these application-specific devices. The company is steadily seeing growth in this market, and power is one of the key features that must be addressed.
“IoT doesn’t necessarily require a high density from a memory perspective, or computing power,” says Derhacobian. Some applications will, such as a smart watch, but the industrial applications, such as monitoring sensors for an office building, aren’t generally running a lot of code or storing a great deal of information.
He says these devices need to be low power but also low energy in that they do not drain a device’s energy too quickly, because the costs of having someone changing batteries regularly is prohibitive. Derhacobian says the challenge is to integrate all the requirements for these IoT devices and wearables, and he sees the market focusing less on price and more on delivering a memory that meets the requirements of a specific end-market.
Alan Niebel, CEO of WebFeet Research, says there are a number of different players and types of memory that could address the needs of wearables and IoT. Power, performance, and footprint all have to be taken into account, as do workloads and capacity. “There’s lots of questions to be answered.”
IoT is so diverse, he says, that one size does not fit all. Serial NOR, for example, makes more sense than parallel NOR, says Neibel, because there are fewer pins. MRAM might work as well in some cases, but it’s difficult to shrink. He adds that Spansion’s recently announced HyperFlash may have applications in IoT. Spansion recently announced a new line of power management integrated circuits (PMICs) for energy harvesting that eliminate the need for extending the life of batteries in IoT devices, including an ultra-low-power buck PMIC with dual input that harvests energy from both solar and vibration energy.