The Upside Of Glitches

Even though software can be fixed after release it should be written better in the first place.

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There has always been a struggle between the verification and marketing sides of any chip company. The solution in the past has simply been to hire lots more verification engineers on a contract basis prior to tapeout and to muscle through the debug process.

Creating a more generic platform and differentiating it with software changes that equation, and that is raising lots of concern behind closed doors inside of EDA companies. It’s not that companies will use any fewer EDA tools to create those hardware platforms. It’s that time-to-market issues will supplant quality if the assumption is that software can be fixed later.

In the case of automobile companies, this will never happen. The trend will always be better hardware and software and more rigorous testing, even if it means sacrificing some features until the next year’s model is available. From a human standpoint, no error is acceptable. From a business standpoint, recalls are extremely expensive and errors can result in costly lawsuits and inflict permanent damage on a hard-earned corporate image.

But in the case of consumer electronics or even business technology, it’s more of an inconvenience to have to download a software patch than a tragedy. And in many cases, getting to market with a product that is functional and loaded with cool new features may be the best way to gain market share quickly—even if teams of software engineers have to work overtime to fix bugs after the product ships.

If Apple, which is known for getting products out the door with very few glitches, can make mistakes, then what about less-capable companies looking to take market share? Even with the glitch in the iPhone 4’s antenna, Apple continued to sell more devices because consumers are relatively accepting of bug fixes after purchase. And with most consumers trading up after a year or two, these are often considered temporary devices, anyway.

Still, what’s needed isn’t an acceptance that all products will be buggy in the future. It’s a way of solving these problems. Quality will always sell, and if quality controls can be automated and priced appropriately—the whole basis of semiconductor development and manufacturing—then it will sell more. Much more.

Rather than a problem for the semiconductor design market, this is a huge opportunity for EDA, and for both software and IP. Inconvenience in the vast consumer market is a problem spread out across lots of people in small increments. And where there is huge volume, there is a huge amount of money to be made.

–Ed Sperling


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