The Linley Mobile Conference last week initiated a lot of discussion about emerging technologies and markets, especially wearables. Jessica Lipsky’s EE Times article captured some of the sentiments in her article, “Wearables Need Tailored SoCs.” But the conference covered a lot more ground than wearables, including mobile security, benchmarking, heterogeneous multicore computing, and always-on coprocessing.
You can download my “SoC Design Challenges of Wearables” presentation here:
My role was to give Arteris’ view on the direction of wearables, based on our close relationships with the major players in mobility, and now wearables (many of the chip vendors are the same). The goals were to ensure that people understood that the move to wearable computing is an evolution in computing (not a revolution), and that wearables portend neither the saving grace for the semiconductor industry nor the deathknell of the smartphone.
I started my presentation highlighting the past and future of wearable computing, starting with Steve Mann, whom I met while at MIT, and ending with Darth Vader.
Linley wanted me to talk more about trends and to be less technical, but I felt the need to drill into some teardowns of two types of wearables:
- A “peripheral” wearable example: Fitbit Flex
- A “smart” wearable example: Google Glass
Whether a wearable is “smart”, or not, is dependent primarily on three things:
In my example, the Google Glass in not truly “smart” because it requires a wireless LAN access point to communicate to the Internet.
Although the most buzz around wearables is for consumer electronics, I posited that these markets might be the wrong ones for our industry to target if the goal is to create economically viable products more quickly. In his keynote, Linley stated that consumer wearables are a technology in search of a use case (I’m paraphrasing here) and I think the data bears this out. There’s lots of FitBits and ugly “smart” watches sitting in dresser drawers today, and this problem will only get worse as companies tackle stranger and stranger use cases in an attempt to find “the killer app.”
Wearables: In search of a Killer App
I asserted that there really are “killer apps”; namely, apps that if some people don’t have them, then they could be killed. One example is a wearable glucose-monitoring device for a diabetic person. This type of device helps the user manage a chronic condition.
Another example is the Viking turnout gear for firefighters which incorporates sensors and LED indicators to let firefighters know when they are in danger of getting a second-degree burn (there’s only 50 degrees difference between feeling pain from heat and getting burned). Firefighters getting burned on the job are acute, rather than chronic conditions.
For target markets, my proposal is to focus on medical, military and industrial safety rather than consumer markets to better understand how people will use wearable technology. These markets are smaller than the totality of consumer electronics, but there are already established use cases and therefore economic value (i.e. cash) attached to solving these problems.
Wearable technology immediately waterfalls to Smartphones
Finally, I worked hard to dispel the erroneous assertion that wearable technology will somehow supplant the mobile phone anytime soon. To make this point, I showed how the features that shipped in the FitBit Flex and Whithings Pulse in 2013 have already been incorporated into 2014’s Samsung Galaxy S5 (Disclaimer: Arteris FlexNoC interconnect IP is present in one or more SoCs within the Samsung Galaxy S5). To drive this point home we reviewed the Samsung Galaxy S5 motherboard photos from TechInsight’s teardown, highlighting the various sensors for pressure, heart rate, acceleration and direction.
With regards to wearables and smartphones, the bottom line is that wearable technology, especially sensors, will quickly waterfall to smartphones. And the smartphone will be around for a long time because it owns the Human Machine Interface with its screen for viewing and for touch entry.
Here’s my conclusion slide:
The panel discussion was the highlight of the conference for me. The following people participated in the panel and Q&A:
- Pankaj Kedia, Sr. Director, Product Management and Business Development, Qualcomm
- John Min, Director, Solutions Engineering, Imagination
- Risto Lahdesmaki, CEO, Idean
- Kevin Shaw, CTO, Sensor Platforms
It was great to hear a broad array of perspectives. There is agreement that wearables will change how we interact with and use electronic devices. What is not as clear is whether wearable adoption will occur at an evolutionary pace (my opinion), or initiate a revolution in computing and the semiconductor industry.
By Kurt Shuler, Vice President of Marketing, Arteris
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