What A Difference A Decade Makes

A lot can happen in the time it takes to move five process nodes. It already has.

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By Tiffany Sparks
Lately, I find myself in a reflective mood, pondering what’s changed over the past 10 years.

Of course, with the 10th anniversary of 9/11 earlier this month, there’s been intense focus on what the world was like 10 years ago and what has changed since that fateful day: the thousands of lives lost, first on 9/11, then the lives lost in Afghanistan and Iraq; the geo-political changes in the United States and around the world as we’ve waged a war on terror; the changes in air transportation (before redress numbers, plastic bags, three ounce containers and full body scanners) and the intense focus on security. Yes, so much has changed … and when I think of that anniversary it is with a heavy heart because to me, the world became a darker place that day.

But while 9/11 is a somber anniversary, there’s another 10-year anniversary that takes me in another direction. One of awe and wonder.

Oct. 23, 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the introduction of the iPod (it officially was not released until Nov. 10, 2001 though). Can that only be 10 years ago? Do you remember a time when “iPod” and “downloads” weren’t part of our every day lexicon? And it was just 10 years ago! On the day the iPod was introduced, Apple’s stock was $9.07 (adjusted for dividends and splits). Now it hovers around $400, and Apple is challenging Exxon as the most capitalized company in the world. The iPhone wasn’t introduced until 2007, and the iPad came out in April 2010. It is mind-boggling (to me) to think about the industries spawned just from these devices.

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A big part of my reflective mood is personal. I recently changed jobs after 10 years, leaving the foundry industry to return to the EDA industry. When I joined my previous company just over 10 years ago, 0.13 and 0.18 micron were the major nodes in production, 90nm was leading edge, and 300mm production was just getting started. “Convergence” was being discussed as a hot trend, but computer, communications and consumer were largely disparate markets. And 10 years later … 28nm is leading edge, millions and millions of 300mm wafers have been shipped, and computer, communications and consumer have converged to the point where it is hard to know where one stops and the other starts. Now, we have smart phones, tablets and clouds.

And as I return to the EDA industry, I find that EDA has changed quite a bit, too (although the love of acronyms remains). Ten years ago, EDA was focused mostly on the back-end of design with physical implementation. While that is still important, there seems to be a growing interest in solutions that help streamline the design process at the front-end. System Realization and SoC Realization are emerging as new EDA focus areas, and what used to be a single chip is becoming a 3D stack of chips.

So innovation marches on.

Yes, 10 years ago, there was no iPod. As well as no Facebook, Twitter or Linked-In. Now, I wonder what the next 10 years will bring. I’m not a futurist. I don’t have a crystal ball. But I know the designs will continue to get more complex. Time-to-market windows will continue to shrink. Spoiled consumers will continue to ask for better graphics, more functionality, longer battery life and a lower cost. And innovation will continue.

Ten years ago, I only used my mobile phone for phone calls and messages. Today, I call, text, check email, take pictures, play games, get news, watch video, get directions and check traffic.

What kind of device will we have in 10 years? If the last 10 years of innovation are any indication of things to come, it will be more than we can imagine today.

–Tiffany Sparks is senior director of marketing communications at Atrenta.


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