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Next week, Apple is holding a
press event (Sept. 9), when, rumor
has it, the company will unveil a new smartphone and a wearable electronic
device (perhaps a smart watch).
These are more than just product announcements. The event will further highlight a fundamental shift in electronics system design because the two types of devices mark clear and separate paths for
systems designers in the future. And it allows us to talk about mammals and insects, but more about that in a moment.
Signposts have already been erected: Samsung has introduced a number of smart phone models and its cool Gear smart watch
line. Apple just happens to be talking about the two types of design at the same time, which makes it a handy conversation topic.
Smart phones and wearables represent two distinctly
different ways to design systems. The smart phone architecture, generally
speaking, descends from computer systems design: big, powerful, OS-centric,
able to manage a multiplicity of tasks. An industry ecosystem has coalesced around
these high-volume devices with a standard array of products and services:
various processors, RF basebands, memory subsystems, sensor technologies, and so
The world of wearables design is completely different. It's
a subset of a broadly defined Internet of Things or Internet of Everything
sector. The applications in this area are arguably almost infinite in number
and wildly diverse. And as such, their technology requirements—their power,
performance and area considerations—are just as varied. One size does not fit all; more
appropriately, one size fits one size.
Cadence IP Group CTO Chris Rowen likens it to mammals versus
insects (see comparison chart, right, from Current Results). In a conversation we had recently, he noted that the smart phone/tablet/PC/server world can be viewed as
mammals: A relatively small number of species in the ecosystem functioning as
generalists, he says. IoT applications,
on the other hand, are more like insects: Too numerous to count and having key,
highly specialized roles within a larger ecosystem.
This ecosystem requires a holistic approach to
system design enablement from IP implementation and verification all the way to
tape out. It requires an awareness of what Rowen calls cognitive layering.
Oversimplified, this means matching the right processing, power, memory, and
software attributes with the right tasks at the right time. We'll be writing
more about this in the coming months.
This system-design perspective is one of the drivers behind the "shift left"
trend (chart, left) that my colleague Frank Schirrmeister often writes about. Our industry
has talked for many years about the need for hardware-software codesign to
speed time to market, but today increasing system complexity and diversity requires
it as well. Not understanding how your hardware design affects your application
software (and vice versa) at the earliest stages of your design can be
I know nothing about how Apple or Samsung apportions design
teams are traveling along these two distinct paths. But I suspect the teams are different, as
are their design approaches. That's one of
the things that makes them electronics leaders.
On Sept. 9, we get to consider new products of electronics
innovation and what each of those two distinct paths means for electronic
system design enablement.
the Seams in System Design