Identifying market trends is the first step in being able to ensure you have the right products when people need them, so what will you need for 2014?
Semiconductor Engineering asked several thought leaders in the industry about the market drivers that are affecting their product planning operations for 2014. While almost everyone sees mobile devices continuing to be the major driver during 2014, there are some emerging areas that may start to have a larger impact. This article takes a look at some of those and the impacts they could have on the semiconductor and EDA industries. In subsequent parts of this prediction series, the knock-on effects of these market drivers will be explored and the challenges that must be overcome to enable them to be designed and produced.
The same but different
“The dramatic trend in smartphone and tablet growth will continue in 2014 and power the industry,” says Graham Bell, vice president of marketing at Real Intent , and an observation that is echoed by many in the industry. But smartphones and tablets only will continue to dominate by evolving and taking on greater levels of capabilities.
One aspect of this, which is being talked about by a number of people, involves additional sensor capabilities. “Nine-axis inertial measurement units (IMUs),” explains Paul Lindner, executive technology director at EV Group , “which include three accelerometers, three gyroscopes and three magnetic axes, will see reduced size, cost and power consumption, as well as increased ease of integration.”
Amongst many applications, this would enable “the ability to navigate shopping malls,” according to Bernard Murphy, chief technology officer at Atrenta , who called it “an application with significant financial potential. Solutions will drive new opportunities for Bluetooth or WiFi positioning, 3D image recognition and other technologies.”
These added sensors often are implemented as MEMS, an area that will see additional applications for such things as camera autofocus and optical image stabilization. External sensors may start to use the phone as a processing hub. Lindner provides the example of a CMUT capacitive micro machined ultrasonic transducer that can image structures inside the human body and then be displayed as images on the smart phone.
Wearable electronics is another offshoot of these distributed sensors. “Most technology companies understand the business model around wearables,” says Amit Rohatgi, VP of Strategic Marketing, Imagination Technologies , “but will still need several iterations before fully implementing the underlying technologies and designing useful products.
Companies such as Ansys-Apache  expect exponential growth in wearables over the next few years, saying “The early applications of wearable electronics will be for fitness, entertainment, and wellness.”
Many of these sensors will require more power effective processing than would be provided by the apps processor in a smartphone. Sensor fusion is an area in which several companies are now competing to provide what is known as context awareness.
The maturation of many smartphone technologies has led to a corresponding price decrease, and this is enabling additional markets to mature. “The Internet of Things [KC] (IoT) is the next phase,” says Joseph Sawicki, vice president and general manager of the Design-to-Silicon Division at Mentor Graphics , “adding an entirely new level of information sources and allowing us to interact with and pull data from the things around us.”
Still, the exact timing of this seems to be uncertain. “This is a vision for the next growth cycle,” says Lindner, “and while we see this vision eventually coming true, the industry is very early in the cycle. It will take a number of years for IoT to take over the growth story from mobile consumer devices.”
Mobile computing created a demand for additional infrastructure. “Once everything has an IP address, a sensor, transducer, memory, some processing power and a wireless connection, silicon usage will skyrocket,” predicts Mike Gianfagna, vice president of marketing at eSilicon . “We’ll start to see a maturation of that market and a more cohesive plan around things like home automation in 2014.”
This has a knock-on effect. “With these evolving devices comes the need for bigger cloud-based data centers and higher network speeds because in the end, getting the right data to the end user quickly is a must,” says Ken Karnofsky, senior strategist for signal processing applications at The MathWorks . “This will also require new wireless and wired network infrastructure and scalable analytical software to turn the raw data into useful information.”
We are also seeing smartphone technology migrate to the automotive market. “Automotive could create a convergence,” explains Dr. Raik Brinkmann , president and CEO of OneSpin Solutions , “between powerful multimedia/communications platforms and safety-critical devices that could impact design and verification flows.” According to ANSYS-Apache, “the automotive market is driven by performance, safety and reliability. It is considered the single biggest consumer of electronics components today. These components are part of a complex system that monitors, controls, and communicates the state of the automobiles. The adoption of automotive-centric Ethernet will improve safety and reliability, as well as provide users with real-time interaction with their surroundings.”
An interesting new application for technology comes from an unexpected place. “One of the most novel is bitcoin hashing—a way to mine digital currency from the Internet,” says Bob Smith, senior vice president of marketing and business development at Uniquify, Inc. .
Security takes center stage
Security is an area that is receiving a lot of attention and is perhaps one aspect that is constraining the adoption of many aspects of the IoT. These are complex issues that relate not only to the physical securing of data, but to things such as ethics, authorization and sharing of information and a myriad of other problems associated with this. “I expect to see more focus on, and the maturing of, biometric identification technologies, driven by security needs for smart payment on phones, and an increase in smart-home applications,” says Atrenta’s Murphy.
Impact on the semiconductor market
Is this good news or bad news for the semiconductor companies? “The strong will get stronger and the weak will get weaker,” according to Oz Levia, vice president of marketing and business development at Jasper Design Automation . “Increasingly, this is winner takes all market and we will see a big divide between innovators and leaders and laggards.” Gianfagna appears more hopeful saying that “the pendulum will begin to swing the other way in 2014.” In the past he points to fewer fabs that can do 20nm and below technology, fewer design starts to justify the huge cost of those chips and fewer vendors driving mega trends. But with the new emerging applications, many aspects of this will change and things other than the huge chips will be required.
While all of this new technology is nice for the small percentage of people who can afford it, Sawicki provides a larger perspective. “The ability to control the state of virtually anything will change how we manage and interact with the world. The home, the factory, transportation, energy, food and many other aspects of life will be impacted and could lead to a new era of productivity increases and wealth creation.”
Let us all hope that the technology advancements of 2014 do indeed have a positive impact on the whole world. Semiconductor Engineering will look back in December to see how many of these predictions do turn into reality and, in the next couple of weeks, will look at predictions in the areas of semiconductor technologies and design and development tools.