Materials Innovation Key To Enabling Next-Generation Mobile Devices

The next cool gadgets will require new materials, new technology nodes and new architectures.


By Kathryn Ta
There’s a lot of excitement building regarding several new mobile product announcements on the horizon, including a concept smartwatch, a new phablet and a new smartphone. These products are sure to be on a lot of consumers’ wish lists this holiday season, and users will expect them to have a sleeker look and feel, while running applications instantly, providing all-day battery life and possessing beautiful, high resolution displays.

As we’ve discussed, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets continue to be the primary driver for semiconductor technology advancements. In the past, following Moore’s Law allowed chip companies to keep up with the ever increasing performance demands of mobile devices. But as technology nodes get smaller and smaller, the semiconductor industry has dramatically shifted course, looking beyond lithography and geometric scaling in order to achieve the necessary performance and power savings needed for cutting-edge mobile devices. In fact, today we’re seeing about 90 percent of the performance benefits in the smaller (sub 28nm) process nodes come from materials innovation and device architecture. This number is up significantly from the approximate 15 percent contribution in 2000.

What’s causing this increased importance in materials innovation? It’s the huge inflection points in consumer products that are rapidly occurring as electronics become more mobile. These inflections require improved processor speed and performance with enough battery life to avoid having to charge a device two, three or more times per day.

And these inflections aren’t just affecting the chips themselves. Display technology is also improving for optimum viewing experience, with brilliant screen resolutions that go above and beyond what the naked eye can discern. We’re talking photo-quality ultra-high definition displays.

The challenge is getting all these features in a form factor that’s easy to hold in your hand, light weight and cool (literally and figuratively) — and of course — at the right cost. To do this requires the industry to transition to smaller technology nodes, insert new materials and implement novel architectures.

Luckily, these challenges play directly into Applied Materials’ leadership in precision materials engineering. For example, we recently announced a new epitaxy technology for the industry’s move to extend epi deposition in NMOS transistors at the 20nm node as well as a next-generation defect review and classification technology that improves yields for smaller semiconductors.

As consumers anxiously anticipate the capabilities and potential of the new mobile devices coming our way, this is just the beginning – there are vast areas of opportunities in semiconductor and display technology making electronic devices possible.

What hot new gadget will be on your holiday wish list this year?

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