Getting Paid For Efficiency

The demand for low-power electronics is growing globally, but who’s actually making money?


Over the past couple of years the electronics industry has woken up to the fact that saving energy and prolonging battery life is a very good thing. It can be marketed, used as a differentiator, and companies can charge a premium for battery-saving technology.

In high-end devices, the incremental cost of adding even additional processors tends to get buried. In extremely price-sensitive markets, it will not be. So one big question beginning to percolate around the industry is just how lucrative this extended battery life will be. Will it just be the high end of the laptop, smart phone and tablet markets? Or will it also carry over into the second-tier versions of these devices, where volume is significantly greater but budgets are tighter?

These are important questions for engineers, even though they may seem one step removed, because it affects their development budgets. Those budgets are used for training, for hiring more engineers, and ultimately for boosting compensation of team members.

The issues here are both convenience and electricity costs. The convenience is well known. If you don’t have to charge a device immediately after extended use, or you can use your laptop productively flying between San Francisco and Beijing without worrying about plugging it in, that’s both convenient and a major productivity gain.
But in price-sensitive markets, the cost of charging a device also enters into the picture, and a similarly priced efficient device will probably win over one that is less efficient.

So given that the demand for low-power engineering is growing, who’s actually reaping the rewards for all of this effort? Is it incremental or just a prerequisite for winning a design? And will that change in the future?