Intelligent Integration Intent

The future of design will be less about energy efficiency than a seamless path between efficiency and performance.

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The focus in recent mobile designs has been heavily slanted toward energy efficiency and power reduction, but this is merely a swing of the pendulum. The loudest complaint right now is time between battery charges, and devices that can go longer between charges without having to turn down the screen brightness, turn off Bluetooth and limit the number of e-mail refreshes will win market share.

While time between charges will remain important, there are massive efforts underway to improve everything from how radios work to reducing the distance between memory and logic—and even reducing the amount of energy needed to drive bits back and forth between logic and memory. Once these efforts bear fruit, probably over the next couple years, the pendulum will begin swinging back toward the center. Performance and efficiency will be the tradeoffs, and they will depend upon user preferences more than default factory settings.

The trick will be to make these kinds of changes more seamless, rather than requiring users to adjust the settings within their handheld devices. Programming a smart phone or a portable medical device or an infotainment system on a car isn’t something the average user wants to spend time learning. That’s why VCR makers ultimately decided that the best way to deal with the blinking 12:00 was to remove the clocks entirely, and it’s why BMW has had to modify the iDrive controller.

What’s needed isn’t better segmentation. It’s more intelligence built into the device itself to say what applications are being run, how bright the screen needs to be and how much energy is required. A user who is playing a game or downloading an HD movie wants maximum power, while someone doing e-mail may be able to limit their power consumption dramatically—particularly if they’re not in direct sunlight.

The tradeoffs of low power and performance are at the center of these use models, and it will be up to designers—and tools makers—to begin to integrate these approaches much more intelligently. In the near future it will no longer just about the number of power islands and voltage rails. It will be about being able to more easily move from the most efficient to the most performance without having to fiddle with device programming.

For the user, this is all about simplicity. For the architects, design engineers and the developers of the automation tools they use, this is about making things simpler for the end user. And as everyone involved knows, that’s hardly a simple task.


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