Low Power: A Solved Problem (?)

Improved energy efficiency will be a pre-requisite to even getting in the door this year.

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The Consumer Electronics Show simply begs to be written about. I had the good fortune of attending the show in person a few years back. I’m now addicted to it. A lot of those reading this will be familiar with the Design Automation Conference. If you are, think of how many people are riding in the elevator vs. how many are in the grand ballroom (any venue will do). That’s a good way to understand the size of DAC vs. CES. Phone booth vs. major city. Apologies to those 20-somethings that may be reading this who don’t know what a phone booth is.

I believe the stories coming out of CES this year are very telling in a gear-head kind of way. The LA Times declared, “Content and connectivity beat hardware in show buzz.” There were endless best-in-show articles. Let’s take CNET as a reasonable proxy: “Corning’s bendable glass,” “3D Printers,” “Chevy MyLink,” “Nano Nails turns long fingernails into touch-screen styli.” And, of course, all the talk about 4K displays. News that will be somewhat disheartening to anyone who invested a lot in HDTV recently—progress marches on. What is noteworthy here is that none of these headlines says anything about battery life. Hand-held hardware is taking a back seat, in a sense. Does this mean the low power problem is finally solved???

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I don’t think so, but the shape of demand has changed. Not too long ago, if one device had good battery life, it was a winner. Now, everything has good battery life, as defined by “I can get through the day without the need for a charge.” This leveling of the playing field has created a focus shift from battery life to features and content. And this is a healthy trend. Power efficiency has now become a baseline expectation. If you enhance functionality, you better do it at the same or lower power. Power-efficient design has become an assumed trait, just as stability over temperature so many years ago.

Here is where it will get interesting. Given the intense thirst the consumer segment has for content and functionality, and the intense interest most governments have for green initiatives, power efficiency will become the “air” of future design activities. If you don’t have it, you die. The problem is far from solved, but the expectation of an on-going solution is clearly there. 2013 is going to be an interesting year for low-power design.


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