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TechInsights grows its medical device industry presence in Japan

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MedTec Japan, Tokyo April 24-25 2013

TechInsights' Japan office, joined by Treena Grevatt from Ottawa, have been exhibiting at Japan's largest conference and tradeshow for medical device technology. Held at the Tokyo Big Sight convention centre on Tokyo's waterfront, this flagship event from UBM Canon saw record attendee and exhibitor attendance. This is a reflection of the Japanese Government's increased support of the nation's medtech industry and the continued worldwide growth in medical devices. This year saw many new exhibitors, such as NEC as well as TechInsights. The exhibitors totalled close to three hundred.

Our booth saw steady foot traffic throughout both days. Whilst the majority of conversations were with Japanese attendees we also spoke with visitors from Singapore, Taiwan, Vietnam, China, and Germany.

MEDTEC Japan 2013 is a big event with 6,445 attendees on April 24 (Wednesday) and a record 6,765 visitors on the 2nd day, April 25. The total number of visitors both days was a record of 13,210 attendees. MEDTEC occurs in Japan annually.

MEDTEC Japan 2013年4月24日、25日 東京ビックサイト

セミコンダクターインサイツジャパン株式会社(TechInsights)は、東京ビックサイトで行われたMEDTEC 2013に本年初めて参加いたしました。

医療機器の設計と製造技術に関する展示会 MEDTEC Japan (主催:UBM Canon) は、今年で5回目の開催となりましたが、来場者は、初日24日(水)は悪天候にも関わらず、6,445名、翌日25日(木)は6,765名が来場し、総来場数は過去最高の13,210名になりました。

TechInsights カナダからは、Treena Grevatt が来日し、ブースで説明役を務めてくれ、日本からは、常時3人がブースに立ちました。中には、弊社をご存知のお客様もいらっしゃいましたが、大半はご存知ない方で、いろいろ情報交換ができたように思います。

300社近い会社がブースを出され、たくさんの方々とお話できたことを嬉しく思います。また、日本だけでなく、シンガポール、台湾、ベトナム、中国、ドイツの方々が来場くださり、盛況でした。

MedTec Japan - 1  MedTec Japan - 2

MedTec Japan - 3  MedTec Japan - 4

MedTec Japan

Is diabetes device technology innovation keeping pace with the disease?

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There's no doubt that the prevalence of diabetes is a major global health concern. If no urgent action is taken, the International Diabetes Foundation estimates that 552 million people will be living with the disease globally by 2030. But what's the current state of the diabetes device market? We've taken a really deep look at whether the monitoring and treatment device technology is delivering on its promise of improved convenience and reduced discomfort. Who are significant players? What are the IP trends and how do they relate to market opportunities? Many technologies have shown promise but are they reaching the marketplace and if not, why not?

I'm thrilled to announce, on behalf of the TechInsights medical team that we've completed release of our first significant open market report - a partnership with medical sector market research leaders Espicom Business Intelligence. This is the most comprehensive assessment of diabetes device technology published to date, and forgive us, we're rather excited about it.

You can read our press release here.

For more information and to access a table of contents, check out our Diabetes landscape microsite.

Thank you to everyone that has supported this release. If you have any questions, please comment or drop me a line.

Thanks,
Treena

Treena Grevatt, PhD
Product Marketing Manager, Technical Intelligence
T: 613-576-0151
C: 613-851-5758
F: 613-599-6501
E: tgrevatt@techinsights.com

January 18, 2012. Day three of the Chevy Volt teardown.

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Day three of the Chevy Volt teardown.The final day of the Chevy Volt tear down has definitely been the most interesting. After dropping the battery pack last night, we completed the removal of all electronic modules in the vehicle, and got a chance to see the entire assembly of Printed Circuit Boards (PCBs) on a viewing table. Congratulations to General Motors are due for the design of such a forward looking and complex vehicle. The battery control and utilization easily doubles the number of PCBs required in the car compared to a conventional gas system.

The battery pack is arranged in a T-shape fitting under the central axis of the car and the rear seats. A dedicated liquid coolant loop is used to maintain the temperature of the Li-ion cells at a precise temperature. This is required both during discharge and battery charging. The cells are arranged in a series of plastic “blades”. Interestingly, there are a total of 135 blades in the pack. The Volt specs claim 96 Li-ion cell groups are placed in series and one would expect the blade count to be close to this number. The battery pack will have to be analyzed further to understand this discrepancy. Numerous temperature sensors and voltage sensors feed four separate battery controllersplaced on top of the pack. The battery controllers use ASICs branded with the LG Chem label and each controller has a separate PCB layout and design.

At the PCB and Integrated Circuit level, the major socket holder for the control processors is Freescale. The PCB design is quite advanced for an automotive application where feature minimization is not critical, with tight design rules and compact Surface Mount Devices. The PCB layout has open space that is clearly anticipating future design modifications, and there are many test points on the boards. The Volt has a surprising number of actively cooled modules. There are four liquid cooled components (the Inverter/Converter, Gas Engine, Battery Pack, and external Battery charger). As well, the step-down DC converter under the trunk is air cooled with a fan.

All in all, a very impressive design. Next to come; digging into the battery pack, and a deeper view of the control electronics.

JST

Day 4 - Here we go again

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Intel introduced it's Smartphone platform reference design and it was Lenovo that will be the first to use this design in their K800 handset. The most interesting thing about the announcement was that the phone was for only Chinese markets. It then made me realize that China had now become the ideal target market for manufacturers as their rising middle class combined with their huge population makes market penetration there a must.

With that in mind I spent my day visiting the booths and hob knobbing with representatives from the largest handset manufacturers in China. First was Korean manufacturer K-Touch, who are using CES to introduce a line of handsets using a Chinese developed OS based on cloud-computing called Aliyun. Most of their designs used dual-core processors and boasted performance that rivaled larger manufacturers like HTC and Samsung.


K-Touch taking me through a demonstration of the Aliyun OS

Next on my agenda was ZTE. ZTE’s booth was actually split in the middle with one side representing their feature phones and handsets available to the Chinese market and the other side showing their aggressive product roadmap for North America. On the North American side, Smartphoness using the Windows 7 and Android OS figured prominently. Their modestly-priced tablets look to take advantage of a rising market segment of customers who want a tablet with some basic features, but not all the bells and whistles that drive up the price.


ZTE’s line of handsets for 2012

The last stop on my Chinese manufacturer tour was the largest manufacturer based in the Eastern Nation – Huawei. Huawei decided to go big for CES, with one of the largest, booths in the South Hall. Huawei introduced their entire product catalogue for China and North America. The Huawei Ascend P1 (introduced during their press event two days ago) took center stage as numerous Huawei representatives took their time with visitors to show off their newest smartphone. Huawei is looking to make a big splash in North America in 2012 and establish themselves as a player in the portable connectivity market space. This booth was a good start.

However, I would suggest that they rethink their marketing slogan…


Wait…What?

My general observation from visiting these booths were that Chinese manufacturers were ready to evolve from the feature phone business to the Smartphone set, matching the evolution in buying tastes by their largest market, Chinese customers. That sentiment was shared by a manager of the China region at Nokia. He stated how Nokia (the overall leader of sales in China) has to continue supporting customers with low-cost feature phones but that the growth of that market and the growth of the Smartphone market in that region are going in opposite directions. What manufacturers like Huawei, ZTE and others are also recognizing is that their Smartphones must offer comparable specifications in terms of processor power and feature set with their North American and European brethren. The Smartphone battle will be very interesting in 2012.

I had a chance to visit other booths throughout the day but the most interesting booth I wanted to share with you was Motorola’s.

Motorola used CES to introduce a line of products that would appeal to both consumers and business enterprise. The XYBoard series of tablets, the Motorola Droid 4, the Atrix 2, and the Photon were unveiled at CES. Building off the popularity of previous generations of the Droid and Atrix, these new models, along with the Photon, were all compatible with Motorola’s new docking keyboard. They also offered new security features that would appeal to IT departments such as certificate-based matching, applications management and full ADS security with FIPS 140 compliancy. Motorola believes these features put their security level on par with that of RIM’s Blackberry line of handsets. Speaking to one of their product managers, Motorola is well aware of customer dissatisfaction with Blackberry, and they want to offer an alternative that appeal to IT managers and the employees that have to use them.


The Atrix 2 docked in the keyboard accessory


The Motorola Photon dual-core Smartphone

I closed off my day by visiting the Gaming Zone. I wanted to see the latest in videogame technology and some of the new titles coming out in 2012. I’m just like any other engineer in that I still hold Mario and Luigi as two of the greatest influences in my life.


The legend himself

My Day 4 experience wasn’t as hectic as the previous day but I still managed to visit some key manufacturers and get a better understanding of what lies ahead product-wise in 2012. Tomorrow is my last day at CES before I get mercifully replaced by another representative from TechInsights. Hopefully, I make as large a dent in my list of vendors to see as possible. Don’t forget to follow me at EE Times at CES, the video footage of the show really highlights some of the cool products that are being showcased.

CES Day Three - It Begins

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EE Times' Sylvie Barak and I managed to arrive in time for Intel's special CES pre-screening of their booth. Intel's booth was very much a reflection of their press event yesterday - a gamut of Ultrabooks. Few of their booths showcased their second generation i5 and i7 Core processors. Noticeablely absent, was anything referring to the Intel 22nm Ivy Bridge processor. Intel staff was uneasy discussing yesterday's Ivy Bridge Ultrabook demos. It's odd and rather telling that Intel does not want to promote their upcoming processor, considering the technical innovation that its use of 3D tri-gate technology represents. The reluctancy to reveal anything on their 22nm process makes me wonder if the rumored April release date is achievable.


The media was allowed early into the Intel booth. It was still crowded…

Due to proximity, the Microsoft booth was next on my CES voyage. Nothing too earth-shattering was revealed, except for some hands-on with every handset using the Windows 7 and 7.5 mobile OS and some demos of the upcoming Windows 8 platform. Emphasis was put on the Kinect and I was able to try “Star Wars: Pod Racer” before its March release date. The game was very intuitive on the Kinect platform and frankly, better than the movie it was based on (Episode 1 that is).

I then made my way to the upper level of the South Hall. I had mapped out the booths that would best serve my interests the night before. First on that list was Nokia. Oddly enough, Nokia's booth focused on their Lumia 710 and 800 series handsets. The working demos of the 900 that were available at their press event and the Pepcom show were nowhere to be found.


One of the many booths at Nokia showcasing the Lumia 710

Kodak was next, and I wouldn't be surprised if their booth presence didn't believe a shift in philosophy for the struggling photography icon. Kodak's booth featured printers and printing solutions, rarely a digital camera to be found. With no cameras to be seen from a camera company, Kodak may be shifting their business focus to the growing home printing market.

From there I was off to the Qualcomm booth. Qualcomm, unlike the manufacturers I visited earlier, came to impress. Qualcomm used CES to showcase demo units running their fourth generation Snapdragon processors. These processors, manufactured at TSMC at the 28nm process node, are Qualcomm's entry into the quad-core mobile processor space. Qualcomm had many hands-on demos in place to showcase the Gen 4 Snapdragon's abilities, from image signal processing and audio management down at the core level, to hardcore intensive gaming. Speaking to one of their engineers, their confidence in their product to compete with Nvidia's Tegra 3 is quite clear, in spite of the head start that Nvidia has.


Qualcomm pulling out all the stops for their booth

Speaking of Nvidia, their booth was a shrine to their Tegra 3 processor. Featuring numerous displays utilizing the Asus Transformer Prime, Nvidia is using CES to maximize exposure of the processing power of their quad-core IC. The most interesting exhibit at their booth, however, was a ZTE 7 inch tablet utilizing the Tegra 3. It will be interesting to see if ZTE is showcasing this same tablet at their booth.


A look at the mysterious ZTE tablet

Though I had a chance to peruse practically all the booths in the South Hall, one booth in particular really captured my interest. It's no secret I’ve been a fan of PrimeSense since we tore down the Microsoft Kinect and found the Israeli-developed chipset powering the innovative gesture-based unit. At their booth, I was given a guided tour by VP of Sales and Marketing, Ohad Shvueli, as he took me through PrimeSense's three-pronged strategy to expand the acceptance of PrimeSense 3D sensor technology. First was their e-commerce strategy, demonstrated by a clothing application that let the user select what garments she wanted to wear and preview it on their figure. From there, the user could decide to continue with their purchase or continue browsing. Next was their strategy to build upon their OpenNI software development in the open community. I had a chance to preview their software arena where developers could create applications using PrimeSense motion capture technology and upload it to share with others. Lastly, was a demonstration of the capabilities available in the television domain with PrimeSense. The demo showcased how PrimeSense technology could develop profiles for multiple users of the TV that created unique selections of content based on user patterns. As Mr. Shvueli put it, it makes TV viewing a "personal experience" where opportunities abound for content management and targeted advertising.


Blackberry made an understated appearance at CES, trying to build any momentum after a rough year by introducing the Blackberry 7.1 OS for handsets and 2.0 for tablets


A look at the OLPC XO-3 tablet powered by Marvell’s Armada processor, total cost - $30


Garmin showcased their 2012 catalogue of devices


A look at ViewSonic’s low-cost tablet family

So ends my Day 3 experience and the first day of the CES conference. Tomorrow I take on the Central Hall. Hopefully, I get to see some real advancement in technology. It's all about the leading-edge with me. Don’t forget to follow me at EE Times at CES, as I’m video-blogging from the show floor as well.

CES Day 2: Attack of the Press

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My second day at CES began innocently enough. Day 1 wasn't very stressful; my most difficult moment was being pinned between other media at the Lenovo booth during “CES Unveiled”.If today's events were just a 'microcosm' of tomorrows, I am in for a long day....

I began Day 2 by attending Huawei's press event. Huawei used this event to showcase their latest handset, the Huawei Ascend P1. Touting itself as the slimmest handset on the market IN THE WORLD, the Ascend measured a thickness of 6.68mm. Huawei stated they were able to achieve this by utilizing new molding and injection techniques, selecting Corning Gorilla Glass to provide the screen, and "customized" components. I was able to ask Huawei President Richard Yu if, by “customizable”, he meant specially manufactured ICs that were lower in package thickness than what their competitors were using and that Huawei had a special relationship with its chip vendors. Mr. Yu clarified that they had selected state of the art components to lower the overall thickness. The most interesting portion of the event came from the admission by Mr. Yu that Huawei was developing their own ICs for LTE and 4G baseband. Effectively competing with Qualcomm and Samsung in the chip space. Wow! More information on the Huawei Ascend can be found here at EE Times.


backside of the Huawei Ascend

Next up was the Intel press event, which I was attending in the hopes of any news regarding the much-maligned Intel 22nm Ivy Bridge processor. The presentation started with some disappointment as presenter Mooly Eden quickly skirted over the processor roadmap. We were shown a detailed floor plan of the Ivy Bridge and then moved to the theme of his presentation - Ultrabooks. Though I found the Ultrabooks to be generally interesting, based on their lightweight and thin design, what really piqued my interest was a demo of the HP Ultrabook using the Intel 22nm processor! Finally, a product that was showcasing the first processor to use Intel’s innovative, but seemingly difficult to manufacture, tri-gate 3D process technology. With all the rumors surrounding the Ivy Bridge’s difficulties, I was afraid it wouldn’t see the light of day any time soon. The demo did not disappoint as an HP rep was able to showcase the processing power with a computer animation demo of a highly-detailed ogre designed on the HP Ultrabook. The Intel presentation ended with 50 lucky press members looking under their chairs and winning a new Toshiba Ultrabook. I was not one of them. (I never win anything).

Shortly after the Intel event, I made the trek to Netgear’s press conference. Netgear followed the theme of full out wireless connectivity, introducing products to follow their research that the number of “broadband households” (homes with 6 or more wireless devices) increased by 70% from 2010 to 2011. Netgear revealed a handful of devices that included a media storage router (a 2 TB DLNA-enabled router that also acts as a media back-up), the NeoTV streaming player, a universal range extender, a home theatre and gaming 4 port WiFi adapter and a software service called “Netgear Genie” that serves to manage all the wireless devices on your network. What made this entire presentation interesting was Netgear’s emphasis on ease of implementation. It seemed as though every product was essentially plug-and-play, making it easy for even the computer illiterate to set up a wireless home to stream media freely.

Next was the press event with the most star power thus far at CES. Panasonic pulled out all the stops to discuss their latest products and innovations. Ed Begley Jr. was brought on stage to discuss Panasonic’s involvement in clean technology. This included their solar panels and power management systems and Panasonic’s newest division – Eco Solutions. To emphasize the growth of the 3D HDTV market (a market which Panasonic estimates will move 7 million TV units by the end of 2012), US soccer star Brandi Chastaine along with a pre-taped message from sportscaster Bob Costas announced that the 2012 Olympic Summer Games would be broadcasted in 3D on NBC in partnership with Panasonic.

The big reveal, was Justin Timberlake coming on stage to announce his partnership with Panasonic and his latest acquisition, MySpace. A new version of MySpace was introduced that emphasized the use of the social network to share, discuss, and stream media. Time will tell if Mr. Timberlake has the golden touch in reviving MySpace to its former glory.


Justin Timberlake introduces the new MySpace, partnered with Panasonic

Nokia used their press event to reveal their latest Windows-based tablet, the Lumia 900. Unfortunately, I was a little disappointed as I was hoping the Lumia 900 would be the first of the Windows 8-based handsets with dual-core processors. The Lumia 900, though very responsive in hands-on testing, still uses Windows 7.5 and a single-core processor.


The Lumia 900 side-by-side with the Galaxy S2

Finally, the last press event of the day featured Sony’s attempts to top Panasonic’s celebrity-filled announcement. Sony began their press event by announcing the European and US release dates for the Playstation Vita. The Vita, available in Japan since December, will be available in both markets on February 22nd. This announcement was underwhelming to me considering that TechInsights took it apart back when it was first released. Sony also announced that Sony Ericsson will now be Sony Mobile Communications and with that announcement came the first handsets to fall under that new banner, the Xperia Ion (coming soon to AT&T) and the Xperia S (to be released in March). To punctuate their involvement in 3D viewing technology, Sony revealed a 3D trailer of Men in Black 3, which was then followed by the introduction of the movie’s director, Barry Levinson, and the film’s star, Will Smith, to discuss Sony’s involvement in the film with their 3D cameras. Sony introduced new home theatre products such as the 4K Projector and their latest in the line of Bravia televisions. Sony closed their event with a performance by Kelly Clarkson and let the press go hands-on with their newest devices. I took the time to play with their newest tablet, the Tablet P, a dual-screen tablet that uses one screen as a control system for the other.


Sony’s latest wares on display

In between these events, I attended press events from Samsung, Pioneer and Nvidia. My general observation is that there are a lot of journalists here in Las Vegas. Every press event was a battle to find a seat and some events required lining up over two hours to get into. Numerous media were turned away from the Samsung, Nokia, Panasonic and Nvidia events. CES should look into a larger venue for next year so that attendees aren’t rushing from press event to press event in the hopes of garnering a spot in each media room. All in all, it was a long day. I can only imagine what tomorrow will bring as the show floor opens and the general public joins in on the madness. I’m sure it’s going to be an experience!

You can view some related videos from CES by EE Times, a sister company of TechInsights.


CES Day One - Trends to watch in 2012 and Some Things Unveiled

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After making the long trek from Ottawa, Canada to Las Vegas, Nevada, my CES experience began with attending Shawn DuBravac’s afternoon discussion entitled “2012 Trends to Watch”. It seemed apropos to kick-off with predictions of what manufacturers would be showcasing at the premier event for consumer electronics.

CES Day One 

Mr. DuBravac began by taking a look back at the CEA’s “Trends to Watch for in 2010”. This included the introduction of tablet technology, improvements in televisions (3D and the incorporation of internet), and the use of sensors in consumer products. This acted as the foundation for the organization’s predictions for 2012.

Very few of the predictions seemed earth-shattering. In fact, from the tone of the discussion, that was the point of Mr. DuBravac’s talk. In his opinion, technology follows a path of design and the example of the remote control served as his example. Showing an image of the first remote control from Zenith with it’s simple design and four buttons, DuBravac spoke of technological innovation as it goes from conception to complexity (using a modern day cable remote with 50+ buttons) to simplicity brought on by user demand. The final stage was deemed “natural use” where technology reaches its peak in design.

The rest of the talk discussed other trends to keep our eyes on. This included the continued growth of wireless connectivity and wireless devices, the transition of the computer from the common unit implementation to other common-use platforms such as handsets and televisions as well as, the rising use of sensors in consumer electronics due to the falling prices of sensors.

Unfortunately, my attempts to sit through the next presentation were thwarted by the eagerness of other attendees to get within the doors of “CES Unveiled”. This was a press exclusive event where some manufacturers showcased their booths prior to the event opening to the general public on Tuesday. With one hour left before the doors were to open, the line had already reached over 500 people. Within minutes of me selecting my spot to squat, another 500 people had taken their place behind me.

CES - Stuck in line 

When the doors finally opened, the mass of people moved from booth to booth as manufacturers showcased their wares. I found this event to be a bit of a let down. Very few “marquee” manufacturers chose to take part in the event. The two manufacturers that I found to be the most interesting were ST Ericsson, who used the event to showcase their family of Nova Thor application processors. And, Lenovo, who used a very large booth to showcase their latest handsets for the Chinese market, laptops and their IdeaPad family of tablets. In fact, Lenovo offered a hands-on with their yet to be released IdeaPad K2, which I wasted no time in handling.

The IdeaPad K2 placed against an iPad 2
The IdeaPad K2 placed against an iPad 2 

The IdeaPad K2 test drove amazingly, which isn’t surprising as we were told that it was using Nvidea’s Tegra 3 quad-core processor. Featuring a very responsive UI, the IdeaPad K2 looks to make an impact on the tablet market.

Other than the reveal of the K2, very little was of interest to me from a ‘gadget geek’ level. Many of the booths featured accessories for handsets (which is considered a trend to watch by the CEA – the rising market of handset accessories), personal audio equipment and other companies showcasing products already released in 2011.

Despite the "CES Unveiled" not quite living up to my expectations, I highly doubt the full 2012 International CES will disappoint. With over 2700 exhibitors, my only concern is seeing them all within the next 5 days.

Tablet Price Wars - Kindle Fire, Playbook, iPad 2 and More

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A lot has been made of the recent introduction of the Amazon Kindle Fire and its extremely low price of $199. TechInsights performed a teardown of the Kindle Fire to see how they kept the tablet cost so low. There were many questioning if this would change the landscape for Tablet pricing. It certainly seems to be having an immediate effect this holiday season.

Before Black Friday deals could even start, RIM lowered the price of the Blackberry Playbook tablet to $199 from the regular price of $499 in RIM’s native Canada. In the US, people had to wait until Black Friday to get their hands on a $199 Playbook. But it is not just RIM who is announcing some very serious discounts to their tablet offerings. PC World took a sampling of the tablet deals on Black Friday, with some very interesting results. (Click here for the article). Now some of these prices will go back up after Black Friday sales are over, but will they go up all the way? The Motorola Xoom, Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1, ASUS Transformer, Sony S1 were all priced comparatively to the Apple iPad 2. But now we’re seeing some of those tablets being given away with cellular contracts, or the price staying at a lower price.

Could we be seeing a transformation to the tablet industry to make it similar to the notebook/laptop industry? Apple’s Macbook usually has a higher price when compared to Windows-based laptops with similar specs. Perhaps as tablet offerings we will have the premium iPad, along with a lower priced selection of Android tablets. The tablet market will definitely be a space worth watching through December, and January of next year.

Check out some of our tablet teardowns.

It’s All in a Name or Is It? - WiFi, Bluetooth and Cellular Standards (2G,3G,4G)

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We just like to peg a name to things. It helps us to identify with what we're getting. Unfortunately, this habit can also work to our detriment. In the wireless world of electronics, when a generic name gets associated with a particular technology, it may prevent us from seeing or understanding that there are differences in performance and underlying technology in many cases.

Let's look at examples of three technologies, starting with WiFi. WiFi is a short-range wireless protocol used for connecting to the Internet. The WiFi guys have at least got us to understand that the underlying technology standard is 802.11, which is from the IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers). But it really goes beyond that, because the 802.11 standard has several versions: a, b, g, and n. Do you know the difference? Maybe you just know that lately manufacturers and retail outlets have begun selling the “n” version, so that must be the fastest. The ‘g’ version is still available and it runs at 54Mbps. But wait a minute. Do you also realize there are various speeds of the 802.11n standard, depending on how the device and the antenna is configured? A “bread and butter” cheap 802.11n radio will likely be 150Mbps. Then it jumps to 300Mbps, of which there are a wide number of devices that run at that speed. You can also get 450Mbps, but the selection of devices running at this speed is very limited. The theoretical maximum speed is 600Mbps. But, very recently, I was looking at a teardown of a Netgear router touting a speed of 750Mbs. How did they do that? Well, it took an innovative design using two 802.11n chips plus the use of five antennas and two frequencies: 2.4MHz and 5MHz.

The second example is Bluetooth (BT). BT has several versions: 2.0, 2.1, 3.0, and now 4.0 devices, also known as BT LE (low energy). As you move up from version 2.0 to 3.0, the speed increases. Then you get to version 4.0. For this latest version, designers completely changed the radio to meet very low-power requirements. As a result, there's been a significant cut in data performance. Nor is a BT 4.0 device backwards compatible with other versions. So, if you have BT 4.0 device, it's likely you also have another BT radio on the chip to support backward compatibility. The idea behind BT 3.0 was that it would be a technology for transferring data to peripherals such as printers, photo frames and other peripherals. But the WiFi guys got wind of that and developed WiFi Direct, which essentially does the same thing. The BT 4.0 standard was designed specifically for low-power devices such as sensors, which are used in home area networks (HANS) and body area networks (BANS). It is a boon to medical equipment vendors, mostly need only BT 4.0.

The third example concerns cellular standards. We've all gotten use to hearing the terms 2G, 3G, and 4G by now. The 2G, 3G, and 4G standards were iterations of next-generation mobile communication technology. But the various data access speeds that each standard supports have come to define these terms. Basically, if you have a 2G phone, forget about surfing the Internet. What you're left with is a basic phone with SMS (text messaging) but no e-mail or WiFi. The 3G band of technologies allow for mobile access to the Internet. The speed was only marginal to OK when the technology was first introduced. However, though the speed of 3G communication has improved, we still call it 3G. With the subsequent introduction of WiMAX, HSPA+, and LTE technologies, there was a significant increase in data-download speed. The ITU (International Telecommunications Union) basically set the standard for what qualified to be called 4G. They defined next-generation 4G technology as having a download speed of 1Gbps. Everyone considered that a challenging goal that would require several steps to achieve. The following graph shows the theoretical speeds of HSPA+, WiMAX, and LTE as well as the ITU's future desired "4G" goals.

3G-4G SpeedsThe consumers use of the term 4G on mobile handsets dates to the summer of 2008. When Sprint introduced their new WiMAX network, they wanted to let everyone know that it could deliver a substantial improvement in throughput rate, from 1.6Mbps up to 12Mbps. However, T-Mobile had also upgraded its GSM network with HSPA+, and it was equally as fast. That's when the marketing wars began. If Sprint could call their new network 4G, then why couldn't T-Mobile do so as well? AT&T also jumped into the fray with its HSPA+ network. Finally, Verizon, the largest carrier in the U.S., also began using the 4G label to describe their new LTE network, which it launched in late 2010. The ITU saw what the carriers had done and basically backed off on their definition of what constituted a 4G network. Perhaps with the technology needing to catch up to the standards, the desired 4G 1Gbps will actually be "5G" when its finally released. The LTE guys are calling it LTE-Advanced and the WiMAX folks are calling theirs 802.16m.

That being said, 4G is not only faster than 3G, but the underlying technology can be different as well. The previous graph indicates the relative difference in speed, using theoretical maximums for downloads. But the reality is a far cry from that. For example, a test done by Epitiro, "a leading provider of service assurance solutions for fixed and wireless network operators and regulatory authorities across the global telecommunications industry," indicated that the real-world performance of LTE was closer to 36Mbps for download and only 1.7Mbps for upload. That's just over 10% of the theoretical download speed.

Then I saw Rogers advertisement from a local carrier in Canada, advertising its network as even faster than 4G. That blew me away. What's the consumer to think?

LTE is live in Ottawa

So I feel for the consumer. Because, if you don't spend significant time researching what you are buying, you won't be getting what you think.

This insight into the various wireless technologies has been summarized and simplified in a series of wireless reports from TechInsights. Get the scoop on who the real semiconductor players are in the wireless world and the technology behind the technologies (Check out our Wireless Patent Landscape Report)

Senior Analyst @ TechInsights

Qualcomm - no surprise is the leader in Data Modems

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It’s no surprise that Qualcomm is dominating the design wins for baseband silicon in data modems. A recent survey by TechInsights based on teardowns of 26 systems from 2008−2011 indicates that Qualcomm commanded 62% of all design wins in this area. In only three of the 26 systems analyzed was the main baseband for the LTE or WiMAX system other than a Qualcomm device. And, in cases where CDMA was added, Qualcomm was also present.

Baseband companies in data modems

The design wins for Beceem (now part of Broadcom) were all WiMAX related. For the most part, Samsung and Qualcomm shared in the LTE design wins; and there was also one case in WiMAX where Samsung silicon was present.

The MediaTek solutions were all related to TD-SCDMA technology for the Chinese market. Icera, a virtual unknown, provided a W-CDMA/GSM solution.

Also, 10 of the 26 modems were from advanced technology (LTE or WiMAX) systems.

Costing

Over the past 10 years, the Teardown Service (previously known as Portelligent) has provided overall cost of goods (COGs) estimates for the systems it analyzed. TechInsights uses a proprietary costing model to provide realistic costs for all system parts. Based on data from all 26 of the analyzed modems, the following observations were made.

First, there were three types of modems: USB data dongles (USB stick), PC data cards, and a standalone unit. The standalone unit cost on average $76.38 to produce, while on average the data cards were the cheapest to produce at $46.18 and the USB data modems, a close second at $53.97. All prices in USD.

Modems represented as 2G and or 3G averaged $53.43. LTE Modems were the most expensive, averaging $70.27, while WiMAX were the cheapest, averaging $47.81. Based on this wide variety of pricing, a number of factors determine the final cost such as technologies and feature sets., Qualcomm with its integrated 2G/3G and LTE solution, is the only company to get it right here.

WiMAX solutions, more so than other types, have wide variations in pricing due to the chip set and technologies provided. The following bar graph illustrates the wide variety of COGs for WiMAX data modems. The W801 modem, for example, which has a COGs of $95.48, also contains a secondary Qualcomm radio.

wimax data modems

The price differential of the cost to add LTE ranges from $11.77 (median compare) to $16.84 (average compare).

Many WiMAX data modems are single mode. Broadcom (Beceem) has been able to bring down the cost of silicon with its latest production device. The WiMAX solution has proved to be cheaper compared to UMTS/CDMA/HSPA+ solutions. On average, WiMAX solutions are $7.62 cheaper; and when taking into account medians, the spread is even larger, at $11.12.

For a full analysis of this matter with additional details, contact for the latest published report, "Market Landscape of 4G Silicon Vendors."

Gordon Holstead
Senior Analyst

Qualcomm’s Q4 Results

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Qualcomm’s impressive Q4 results did not come as a surprise to our analysts here at TechInsights. With our extensive coverage of the mobile computing and connectivity space (over 120 teardowns a year), our analysts have a large database to work with. With this unique perspective, major trends are not hard to spot.

One trend is the increasing amount of Qualcomm’s baseband processor design wins. LTE is the newest wireless protocol available – currently rolling out in many countries – and Qualcomm has dominated the mobile phone LTE offerings thus far with their MDM9600 and MDM9200 offerings.

There are also many Qualcomm design wins in the 3G smart phone space. In fact, Qualcomm’s early work with the Android operating system is helping place their baseband processors into many Android smart phones that are appearing all over the world from their dual-core snapdragon (now called S3) in global phones from HTC, to single core MSM7XXX basebands that are all over China.

Of course, no mobile computing industry story is complete without Apple. On this front, Qualcomm has baseband design wins in both the iPad 2 (MDM6600) and the iPhone 4S (MDM6610).

In many cases these baseband processors are not their sole design win. Qualcomm transceiver ICs, power management ICs, and connectivity ICs are all part of chipsets that Qualcomm can offer to the mobile design teams. When Qualcomm wins a baseband processor slot, expect more Qualcomm silicon to also be incorporated in the design.

Qualcomm attains market leadership by offering innovative silicon, reusing that silicon in different configurations, and providing the software infrastructure to put it all together. Will someone be able to unseat Qualcomm from their leadership position? It’s unclear which competitor would be able to. But with the revenues involved in chipsets for mobile computing, there will be many companies that try.

-- Steve Bitton, Product Manager

No 4G for iPhone 4S (depending who you ask)

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The iPhone 4S, the "all new inside" iPhone4 will be released on October 14th. There are no claims it will be 4G as Apple has made it clear in yesterday’s product release that they are not offering LTE or WiMAX. This will be a world phone with GSM and CDMA capability and, in fact, the fastest technology will be their HSPA+. Theoretically, the iPhone 4S will upload (HSUPA) at a rate of 5.8 Mbps and download (HSDPA)at a rate of 14.4 Mbps and, as dictated by Apple’s heads, offer the same speed as three other 4G phones compared at the presentation (the Motorola Atrix, LG Thrill and HTC Inspire) - handsets which claim are 4G speed. So why is Apple not claiming the iPhone 4S as 4G if it uses the same technology as the phones listed above? I think the reason is Apple recognizes that HSPA+ is not 4G. Finally! And I am in full agreement.

A number people we surveyed were disappointed that Apple did not go with 4G i.e. either a LTE or WiMAX version. But realistically, Apple tends to tread carefully into new technology and LTE is still early in its infancy for Apple to rely on it. Apple has taken lessons from Toyota and Honda. Get a design that works and then just improve upon it. Look no further than the fact that Apple is still selling the iPhone 3G – they know not to dramatically change a working model. If any companies /carriers could deliver the promised speeds of LTE/WiMAX it would be amazing, however, more often than not, these carriers can’t, so HSPA+ is just fine. I can tell you for most people do not get anywhere close to those upload or download figure in either a cellular network or in our home WiFi networks. I like how Apple addressed the 4G issue at the meeting, here are 3 other 4G phones and, guess what, we offer the same speed. Another thing about LTE or WiMAX is the jury is still out on the reliability of the technology and, as of today, is still only available in certain metropolitan centers. Another trouble is the carriers are selecting from a variety of 4G technologies which then limits how a phone will work for a certain carrier. The fact that the iPhone 4S is a world phone that supports GSM and CDMA will allow all the carriers to offer only one version of the phone which results in streamlined manufacturing. Nice move Apple.

One just has to look into the iPhone 4 from Verizon. This phone utilizes the Qualcomm MDM6600. Qualcomm is the only company with an integrated GSM and CDMA product offering. All indications say the MDM6600 will be present in the iPhone 4S.

With the fact that iPhone 4 is still making record sales, it makes sense Apple continue to milk the same form factor and just make the functionality better - and better it is. The A5 processor gives them the added horsepower for gaming, web browsing, 1080p HD video, launching applications and better graphics.

Recent news says people were disappointed it was not named iPhone 5 and many think the stock would not have dropped if they did that. Why did they not call it a 4G phone either? Others with the same technology are? Apple is saving the iPhone 5 for a real splash with a "real" 4G phone with their next release, maybe in a year from now. By this time, the LTE and WiMAX 4G offerings will be more advanced and the chipsets will be more mature. They also could add Near Field Communications wireless technology for the mobile transactions (like a "Google Wallet" type application). You can be sure they are working on it.

We need to enjoy all the goodies with the new iPhone 4S and wait patiently for new hardware and possibly a new exterior design.

Gordon Holstead
Senior Analyst

Security and the Google Wallet

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Near Field Communications (NFC) has got a real buzz in the market since Google stepped forward to drive the next level of mobile connectivity and convenience to the user.

The wireless payment systems with NFC is actually nothing new (Japan has been using NFC since 2004) but in the financial industry we tread very slowly and cautiously. For petes sake I only got my chip card (contact on the card) known as a smart card less than 2 years ago. MasterCard is ahead of the other credit card companies and introduced PayPass which is a wireless payment system. MasterCard PayPass now boasts over 300,000 terminals world-wide. The wireless payment terminals using NFC technology needs to be widely deployed before adoption will be mainstream. But there are other critical aspects: One having a phone with NFC; Two, having a phone enabled to utilize the NFC technology (cell phone carriers). So here you have it, it’s a complex situation of needing the carriers, the credit card companies/banks and the hardware providers getting in sync. The final aspect is customer acceptance. It is the security aspects of using your phone as an eWallet that most people are leery about. A lot of consumer education is needed.

Google was very smart to align all the players , financial institutions (MasterCard and Citi Bank), a hardware provider (Samsung, a trusted service provider (First Data) and one of the top carriers in the U.S. with Verizon. Unless you have all of these conditions met, it’s more like another trial.

On the security aspect of a wireless transaction, people need to get educated that the same technology (NFC) is used on your current contactless credit card issued by MasterCard and now Visa. The industry as a whole has done a very poor job at educating the consumer on this aspect. It is here where some of the problems lie. The whole contactless credit card system is not mainstream. Some could argue MasterCard has already deployed the technology and now Visa is following. Do a quick survey when you are shopping and you will see maybe less than 5% of the transactions are done wirelessly. Now are we going to skip contactless credit cards and go right to mobile commerce? Not likely.

There are many levels of security in the Google Wallet. First, a phone can and should be password protected (only 33% of people actually do). The Google Wallet application also requires a 4 digit PIN to activate the antenna of the NFC chip. Google Wallet will also be disabled if your PIN number is entered more than five times and will actually not allow some easy to crack pin numbers such as 1234. User information is encrypted on the ‘secure element’ integrated circuit. The Google Wallet mobile unit must touch or be held in very close proximity (less than 10cm) to a MasterCard PayPass reader to operate. Once the transaction is completed, the antenna on the NFC device is turned off. Additional transactions require the PIN to be entered again.

The Google phone (aka Nexus S), manufactured by Samsung is the only Android phone on the market supporting NFC so far. Google went with the number 1 company in wireless and wired smart card technology, NXP Semiconductor. NXP boasts over 150 NFC trials worldwide. The NFC chip set used in the Nexus S is the PN544 containing the NFC radio or RF chip and the security chip known as a ‘secure element’. The NXP chip supports all 3 standards for contactless integrated circuit cards: ISO 14443 and variants MIFARE and FeliCa.

The ISO 14443 technology has already been in place in applications such as Identify(passport), payment(money cards and contactless credit cards), mass-transit cards and access control applications. So that being said, the Google Phone is as secure as any contactless credit card. Believe me, the credit card companies would never deploy technology if it could be easily compromised. We should be putting some trust in the technology and embrace it. Your smart phone is about to get smarter. But when? Stayed tuned for a second post outlining the options for NFC for all us that do not have NFC on our smartphones.

Gordon Holstead

Senior Analyst

Related Open Market Report - Market Landscape – NFC Technology Related to Mobile Communications 

nVidia Tegra 2 tablet design wins - the value of being early

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TechInsights teardown coverage of the tablet market allows us to see some interesting trends. One trend we’re seeing is many Tegra 2 design wins in Android-based tablets. (Echoed by comments from nVidia’s CEO)

Obviously, nVidia has done something right with their Tegra 2. There could be many reasons for the multiple design wins, but surely one reason is that they were one of the first significant low-power dual-core mobile processors on the market. With their silicon ready to go before some of the other major dual-core competitors, nVidia had a chance to get the system design people early access. nVidia has also worked closely with the Android operating system, with many design wins in Android 2.x Tablets, as well as the dual-core optimized Android 3.x (Honeycomb).

Tegra 2 package for tablets

Tegra 2 package for tablets

 

With Tegra 2 gaining many design wins in Android tablets, we’re also starting to see similarities in the peripheral circuits in these tablets. (Our product profile database and database access tools allow us to search through many tablet design wins at once.) Perhaps nVidia has helped kick-start these designs with some known good components, and provided the code to help bring up designs quickly. A well-staffed and active applications engineering group could accomplish this. Or perhaps some of the system designers have created their own designs, and the rest of the world is copying the same mold. In either case, Tegra 2 now has a leg up on the competition for dual-core processors in tablets.

Speaking of the competition, look for the Qualcomm dual-core Snapdragons and the TI OMAP 4 attempt to make a bigger impact in the tablet space. Qualcomm is doing quite well in the phone area with their integrated baseband, but have not gained as many Android-based tablet design wins that they would have hoped. The OMAP 4 has been shown to have some very good technical specs, but still is lagging behind in design wins. All evidence that nVidia is winning against some big competition with being to the market early as one of the major factors.

 

Tegra 2 Platform

Tegra 2 Floorplan

 

 

For more detailed information on the design of the Tegra 2, and a look at some of the other advantages, see our IC Design Overview (NVidia Tegra 250 Processor) report that covers the layout, packaging, and a whole lot more. (You can search for IC Design Overviews of other mobile processors—the Tegra 2’s competition.)

- Steve Bitton

The mobile processor landscape continues to change at breakneck speed.

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The race continues – but in which direction is everyone running? 

We’re just a short time away from seeing nVidia’s Tegra 3 “Kal-El” processor in a new tablet. Kal-El is a high performance mobile processor touting a quad-core monster under the hood.

It’s been less than a year since we first got a hold of nVidia’s Tegra 2 – a dual-core that nearly swept the market with the lion’s share of high-end tablet and smart phone design wins. Are we in for a repeat performance? I think it’s a good bet. I believe OEMs will see a platform with arguably segment-leading hardware performance, and now well-established brand recognition in nVidia. And no one has yet come even close to competing with Apple – so perhaps nVidia’s quad core will tip the scales?

Other processor manufacturers and OEMs will of course be close behind. But to what end? It’s not yet clear to me how powerful parallel computing performance fits into a mobile connectivity and infotainment device. Back in February, I was commenting on the importance of user experience – and I haven’t changed my opinion.

Sure, quad-core processing makes for some nice marketing fodder. We’ve likely all seen the slick videos of the latest tablet running two simultaneous HD videos – but who does that? Does it matter that my smart phone can simultaneously stream YouTube, launch Angry Birds, and make a call at the same time? I’m just not that good at multi-tasking.

You could argue that every now and then it might be useful. I could even agree with you. Unfortunately – with great power, comes great ... power consumption. I’m certain that nVidia and all the others have some very impressive power management strategies (that I’m very keen to have a look at). But I still expect a power consumption hit with the increase in complexity. And am I ready to sacrifice day-to-day battery life for the once in a blue moon need for a pocket-sized super computer? Not me.

Apple continues to dominate the mobile segment – and have you noticed that they say very little about the number of cores, clock speed or cache sizes of their processors? They don’t say anything at all – because they’ve figured out it’s the user experience - not the spec - that matters most.

To compete successfully, processor manufacturers will need to partner with OEMs to jointly design a product with a differentiated user experience – one that will actually address what consumers are looking for. So until all the rest of the field starts to realize that they’re not even running the same race, Apple will continue to keep the overwhelming lead with end users.

Jason Abt

Check out the following related reports:


Google Finds Patent and Mobile Leadership by Acquiring Motorola

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Yesterday's announcement that Google will acquire Motorola Mobility for approximately $12.5 billion is less about becoming a major player in the handset space than it is about acquiring valuable intellectual property from the wireless communications giant.

From a patent perspective, the Motorola acquisition provides a sizable portfolio of both issued and pending patents. A quick review reveals a portfolio of over 17,000 Motorola patents that are still in good standing (along with another 7,500 pending applications). Combined with Google's existing stable of patents the search engine giant will cast its own awesome shadow across the wireless communications IP landscape leading toward an eventual détente among adversaries based on the cross-licensing model that became commonplace in the semiconductor industry in the early '80s.

At TechInsights, our experience shows that typically 3% of a large patent portfolio will have significant value; as such we can assume that Google has acquired roughly 500 high-value patents (possibly essential to industry standards). This indicates Google has paid an average of $24.5 million for each high-value patent independent of any of value associated with the Motorola operation. This is one third the rate (per patent family) for the same type of patent in the Nortel auction they recently lost to a consortium of other firms.

As a relatively young company, Google hasn't had the benefit of time to build out a developed patent portfolio in comparison to its competitors and, as such, have left themselves open to litigation. By acquiring Motorola Mobility's patents (and their recent purchase of over 1,000 IBM patents), Google has bolstered their ability to protect themselves and the Android ecosystem from litigation. Further, I expect Google to make good use of Motorola's IP team, who has plenty of experience dealing with patent licensing and defensive litigation in the wireless space, an arena they are relatively unfamiliar with.

This is not Google's first foray into acquiring intellectual property. TechInsights has watched Google increasingly demonstrate an aggressive patent acquisition strategy in the past focusing on areas key to the vendor's long-term growth strategies. With this acquisition, Google not only strengthens its own patent portfolio, it also acquires the physical assets and engineers of Motorola.

Google isn't out of the woods yet. With the purchase of Motorola;s IP, patents and assets, it likely makes this combined entity a more direct target.

--Mike McLean, VP Intellectual Property Rights

Nostalgic for Motorola

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In the wake of the announcement of Google’s purchase of Motorola’s Mobility (the cell phone group), I was waxing nostalgic about Motorola the electronics company.   Motorola is one of America’s most significant technology companies, founded in Chicago in 1928. Motorola started out with televisions and radios, but my personal experience with Motorola was in two other areas, semiconductors and mobile phones. 

 

Before my university days, I started out programming on Commodore computers.   When I started my Electrical Engineering degree, one class really introduced me to the what was behind the programming languages of the time.  Motorola 68HC11 development kits introduced the class to assembly language as well as an understanding of registers, memory, and the ALU.  I was actually able to hold the packaged device — one of my first introductions to an integrated circuit. 

Of course the 68HC11 was related to the great Motorola 6800 series of processors. Right at the beginning, Motorola was in heavy competition for processor supremacy with Intel and Texas Instruments.  Eventually Motorola partnered with IBM to create the Power PC processors.  Variants of the Power PC core are still in use today. 

 

For mobile phones, my second and fourth mobile phones were basic models from Motorola.  And although I didn’t own the groundbreaking RAZR, I knew many people that did.  Of course, when speaking of mobile phones and Motorola, one has to mention the Motorola DynaTAC, the very first portable cellular phone.  Martin Cooper’s invention started the whole mobile phone industry way back in 1983. 

Motorola has spun out its TV and Radio business (to Panasonic), the processor business (to Freescale), other semiconductor components (to ON Semiconductor) and now it’s cell phone business (to Google). Motorola now exists as Motorola Solutions, somewhat similar to IBM’s concentration on the services side of the business, but without the R&D behind it. 

Will we hear much of Motorola anymore? I’m not sure.  But I do know that Google will eventually want their phones to be labelled Google and one more occurrence of the Motorola name in electronics will disappear. 

 

But the technology inside the phones made by the newly formed company will not disappear. We’ve analyzed many of these phones, and one tablet, over the years. Our library of these analyses is certainly not going anywhere. 

--Steve Bitton, Product Manager 

Portable Innovate 2011 in Shenzhen / Android in Tablets

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I had the good fortune of attending the Portable Innovate conference/exhibition held in Shenzhen on July 14th and 15th. While there, myself and three of my colleagues from our Shanghai office (Kevin Zhu, Jerry Sheng, and Jerry Huang) worked together to answer the many questions our presentation prompted.

Unfortunately, I was not able to help with all the questions because of my lack of Mandarin knowledge (the odd “ni-hao” and “xie-xie” didn’t cut it), but after my presentations many of the audience that were confident in English came up to ask me questions. My presentation was on trends we are seeing in the tablet industry, an area we can comment on with our extensive tablet teardown coverage. The questions I received showed me how closely the conference attendees were tracking the market themselves. That really isn’t a surprise given how important a city Shenzhen is to the whole consumer electronics market, as it is home to many of the large manufacturing facilities, along with being design centers for companies like Huawei and ZTE.

My presentation mentioned that we are seeing many Android tablets, and we believe Android to continue to be a major force in tablets in the future. The people I talked to all brought up the fact that Microsoft had won concessions from major Android integrator HTC (the first phone manufacturer to use Android). More phone manufacturers are rumoured to be on Microsoft’s radar. System designers have good reason to watch the operating system market very closely—the entire design environment is set by the operating system.

But will this eventually kill off Android as the non-Apple choice for tablet operating systems? I would say no. Microsoft has two possible plans for what they want to do for Android, but right now I would say that making money from licensing might be more plausible. Windows mobile uptake is slow right now for smartphones. Tablets that are closer in operation to laptops might use Windows 7 as opposed to the mobile version, but these tablets are still well out-numbered by Android tablets. I think we will continue to see more Android-based tablets than Windows-based tablets in the future; it’s just a question of who will truly benefit.

-- Steve Bitton, Product Manager

Messy Desks

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desk sunatoriOur very own Simon Sunatori won the dubious distinction of having his desk featured in EETimes’ Messiest Desk photo gallery. Simon characterizes his cube as a “mad engineer’s office”. Personally, I love the headphones suspended from the ceiling. If the cord is taut, we know Simon is at his desk, and hard at work!


Jason

The Race for 2nd Place

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While everyone is unsure what the ultimate size of the tablet market will be, there is a strong consensus that Apple's iPad is number one by a wide margin. But the tablet market will eventually be bigger than just Apple. The netbook/laptop market, the smart phone market, and even the personal media player market have many competitive entries. An interesting question for the tablet market then is "who is number 2?"

It is still early in the game with many big players yet to release their new tablets, but an early winner seems to be Asus. According to this article, Asus seems to be shipping more tablets than any of the other challengers, at least for now.

This does bring up another interesting question—who is better equipped to design and produce tablets? Laptop/netbook companies, or smart phone companies? Or the companies that do both, such as Apple? Time will give us that answer, although at this point it looks like the laptop companies (Asus, Acer, Lenovo, HP) have an early edge over the smartphone companies (Motorola, HTC, RIM, Nokia).

We will be watching this space closely with our own tablet teardown channel. Tablets from many different vendors will be covered throughout the year, including two from Asus: the Eee Pad Transformer, and the Eee Slate. We’ll be sure to keep you updated as these devices arrive. Keep an eye on our tablet teardowns.

-- Steve Bitton, Product Manager

Apple’s Recent Patent Push

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Much has been said over recent decision to award Apple, the consumer electronics manufacturer (and budding semiconductor manufacturer), a patent that describes how the user interacts with a touchscreen display in a mobile application. The patent itself is very narrow in its claim, as the abstract details:

A computer-implemented method, for use in conjunction with a portable multifunction device with a touch screen display, comprises displaying a portion of page content, including a frame displaying a portion of frame content and also including other content of the page, on the touch screen display. An N-finger translation gesture is detected on or near the touch screen display. In response, the page content, including the displayed portion of the frame content and the other content of the page, is translated to display a new portion of page content on the touch screen display. An M-finger translation gesture is detected on or near the touch screen display, where M is a different number than N. In response, the frame content is translated to display a new portion of frame content on the touch screen display, without translating the other content of the page. 

Initially, uproar was expressed across the internet, as the (sometimes unfavorably-viewed) Californian electronics giant looked to be taking advantage of an open patent claim to provide itself a competitive advantage over its many competitors in the smartphone realm. Many took the claim to mean that Apple was now the sole proprietor of the concept of touchscreen technology , i.e. the iPhone/iPod Touch was now the only acceptable product on the market that could use a touchscreen as its user interface. This would thereby establish a monopoly of the technology preventing competitors like Nokia, HTC and RIM from incorporating a touchscreen into their handset designs.

This is not the case, and this uproar seems more about the excitement from the title of the patent (“Portable multifunction device, method, and graphical user interface for translating displayed content”), then it does about the context of the actual claim. Nilay Patel has done a good job in disseminating the patent and the end result is a patent that is very narrow in its coverage of touchscreen technology and one that would be difficult to assert via patent litigation.

Does this mean that this recent patent claim by Apple is irrelevant? Absolutely not. In fact, quite the opposite when you look at it from the “big picture” point of view. The typical smartphone occupies over thousands of patents, so a narrow patent like this is unlikely to change the landscape of the handset market, unless of course the patent covers a groundbreaking new technology that changes the course of the industry. Apple winning this patent claim, in the grand scheme of things, is a reflection of the electronics powerhouse developing their overall portfolio of patents in an effort to protect their assets and impact their market results. Look no further then the company they are currently locking horns with in the courtroom, Nokia, and their massive portfolio of handset-related patents to see how important it is for a company to protect their intellectual property. From that perspective, it now becomes clearer why such an innocuous patent such as #7,966,578 could be a harbinger of things to come from Apple.

--Mike McLean

Counterfeit Electronics

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I just read a very interesting article from our associates over at MuAnalysis on the subject of counterfeit components in the electronics supply chain. While it is difficult to estimate the total damage this issue causes the electronics industry every year, it’s not hard to believe that it can be huge for all concerned.

In 2005, Dell announced a $300M one-time charge to cover the cost of repairing thousands of PCs sold with defective capacitors. The cause of the defective capacitors, in a now-infamous case of industrial espionage, was a stolen (and incomplete) electrolyte formula. This incident was several steps up the value chain, but Dell was ultimately on the hook for the repairs.

This case illustrates the risk taken by manufacturers and distributers at all points along the value chain. In Dell’s case, it would have been very difficult to detect the issue in advance, but this is not always the case. Martine from MuAnalysis points out some available approaches to mitigating this risk:

  • Acoustic microscopy for damaged dies
  • X-Ray fluorescence for residual lead
  • Measure length & width for outright fakes
  • Lot & date code mismatches for salvaged defectives

We’ve encountered our share of counterfeit components as well, and it’s obviously very frustrating when it happens. The accompanying video on EPT shows some fascinating images of defective and counterfeit parts they’ve uncovered.

--Jason White, Product Manager

The Slashdot Effect

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Patents have an image problem.

I was listening today to Search Engine, a popular weekly podcast from TVO covering Internet-related topics of the day. I normally enjoy Search Engine, but with the episode entitled “Patently Obvious”, I knew we could be in for a painful discussion.

The episode proceeded as one could predictably expect from the outset, with Jesse interviewing a communications student about the dangers of software and business method patents, holding up Amazon’s infamous “one-click” patent and Apple’s “pinching” patents as prime examples.

The interview fell prey to what I call the “Slashdot Effect”, a superficial examination of over-hyped patents by non-experts who read the abstract, and think a company has been illegitimately granted an overbroad patent on a common practice or technology. This effect can often be observed on popular discussion boards, including (but not limited to) Slashdot.

For clarity’s sake, it’s important to note that Amazon doesn’t actually own the practice of purchasing something online with a single click. Their patent covers one specific implementation. It is easy to think of technical design-arounds that would accomplish the same task without violating the patent.

Also, the best Apple “pinching” patent I could find covered only a very specific interface technique involving two separate multi-touch gestures, not at all similar to the now-famous pinching interface for zooming in or out on an image.

It may be good entertainment to make grandiose claims of corporate ownership and control, but it certainly isn’t good journalism to base a story on the “Slashdot” crowd’s collective opinion.

I believe this piece is reflective of a larger issue. Why do patents have such an image problem, and what can we in the IP industry do to address it? I’m not sure, but I believe that we ignore the problem at our peril.

--Jason White, Product Manager

IAM - World’s Leading IP Strategists

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I was very happy to learn this week that Mike McLean, our VP of Intellectual Property Rights, has been selected for the 3rd time as one of Intellectual Asset Management’s Strategy 250. According to IAM, the Strategy 250 "identifies individuals who offer IP owners world-class strategic business advice."

I have had many opportunities to work with Mike in the past. He was my own manager when I first started with the company as a junior patent analyst, and I have had the pleasure of working with him on many customer engagements since that time.

I’m not at all surprised to see him selected for this honor. Congratulations Mike!

Product categories - who needs them?

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As someone who has been following technology for the better part of two decades, I admit to some confusion when I put on my technology analyst hat these days.

Higher levels of technical integration are of course inevitable. It reduces manufacturing costs (at least in theory) and often leads to more functionality per area/volume/weight/power etc. of the consumer products that many of us love to, well, consume.

Presumably it lowers the cost for us tech-hungry consumers too – no longer do I have to buy separate doodads for playing music, taking pictures, making calls, sending email, reading books, watching movies, playing video games, finding my precise latitude and longitude anywhere on the planet, and reading the latest reviews of the restaurant down the street. It’s all right there in my smart phone or tablet, although even that line is rapidly blurring.

Is this old news? Sure. But where does it end? Aren’t we losing something at the expense of all this product integration?

What triggered this line of thought was the unveiling of the new Nintendo Wii U console slated for release in 2012. To be honest, the hardware doesn’t seem to be anything to write home about. What got me was the new controller. Although it’s been rumoured for awhile, we finally got a look at it this week. If you’re interested, you can check it out here: http://e3.nintendo.com/hw/#/introduction

The controller? It’s a tablet. Yes, it includes the iconic Nintendo control pads on the sides. But with a 6.2” touch screen, untethered use as a stand-alone platform, web browsing ability, microphone, speakers, and facing camera, I call it a tablet.

Back to my earlier comment about losing something at the expense of integration. For me, it’s user experience. How we interact with our doodads. Personally, I like the original Wii remote. It enabled innovative and intuitive interaction that I just don’t see possible from a tablet.

Same goes for my stand-alone camera, GPS, and iPod. I like the industrial designs and interfaces that are made possible because they are intended for a single application.

My prediction? In the next 2-3 years we’re going to see a flood of new ‘integrated’ products claiming to do everything – and failing to gain traction with consumers. Maybe they really will do everything – but they just won’t do it well. Who needs product categories? I do – and I’m guessing I’m not the only one.

Samsung 27nm NAND Flash

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Our team was very excited to confirm our discovery of Samsung’s new 27nm NAND Flash memory in a commercially available device on Thursday. This shows Samsung can increase capacity still further, while simultaneously improving performance. According to Samsung, this new chip boasts SD Card write performance by 30% over the previous, 35nm generation.

We were able to take some great ultra-high-mag cross-section images of the NAND Flash array, some of which are available here. Further analysis is planned, so if you need more information, be sure to let us know!

Sony Xperia Play - the Playstation Phone

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We spent some time looking into the latest Sony Ericsson Xperia handset, the Xperia Play. We've been looking forward to getting our hands on this device, often called the "Playstation Phone" ever since it was announced. What innovations would we see in this, the first smartphone to be "Playstation Certified"?

There's plenty we could dig into further, such as their use of single-level-cell NAND flash memory. These have faster write speeds and lower power consumption than their multi-level-cell brethren, both very important for a gaming-optimized smartphone. But with only 8GB of storage included, consumers are likely going to be opting for the removable microSD cards anyway.

Qualcomm has a big win on this phone, with the inclusion of their flagship Snapdragon processor. It's only a single-core, but power consumption on a gaming device is a big concern. Still, consumers hoping to get top-tier performance are likely going to be disappointed without the power of a dual-core.

But at the end of the day, it's not the hardware on this Android-powered phone that is going to impress its users – it's the software. And since our Xperia Play obviously doesn't work anymore (these things never last very long around here), we're going to have to leave that review task to others.

--Jason White, Product Manager

PlayBook Teardown – Live at ESC Silicon Valley!

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Tomorrow at ESC Silicon Valley, our very own Allan Yogasingam will be presenting some conclusions from our recent teardowns of the Xoom, iPad2, and PlayBook. He will also be conducting a live teardown of the PlayBook. If you’re at the show, don’t miss this opportunity to see the live teardown!


http://schedule-siliconvalley.esc.eetimes.com/session/573

Build or Buy - The Eternal Question

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Looks like LG has been pondering this question, and has decided to go with build. My day started with a fascinating press release in my inbox:

LG Electronics Licenses ARM Processor Technology to Drive Platform Strategy in Home and Mobile Markets 

We’ve been following the mobile space for a long time, and have been closely watching the recent batch of associated mobile processors. To be honest, this one caught me by surprise.

Don’t get me wrong - LG has been well established in the electronics space for some time, and have released some impressive products in the mobile space. With offerings like the Optimus 2X and Optimus 3D, LG is well positioned in the high-end phone market. However, these products take advantage of both nVidia’s and TI’s flagship mobile processors, respectively.

It seems unlikely that LG is looking to engage in processor specmanship against a well established platform like the OMAP or the now-dominant Tegra, at least in the short term. With the recently released Apple A5, and both Samsung and Qualcomm coming out with dual-core power-houses of their own, the space is starting to look a little crowded.

So what is LG’s game plan? Clearly with the increasing relative cost of the processor, there are financial reasons for internal sourcing. But I believe it goes beyond that.

Looking across the mobile landscape right now, differentiation is getting hard to come by. It’s getting easy to say ‘just another Tegra-powered Android phone”. I’m betting that LG is looking for that elusive, yet ever important differentiation. The danger is that by the time they get to market, we may all be suffering from ARM saturation: ”yawn - just another dual Cortex-A9”. But I truly hope not; I for one am always to happy to see any attempt at differentiation, especially if it means new silicon to explore.

--Jason Abt, Product Manager

RIM's PlayBook: It's Fixable

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We've spent the afternoon digging into the PlayBook, and we're ready to hand down our verdict. Leaving aside the (considerable) software problems for the moment, the PlayBook's hardware looks fairly solid. 

Texas Instruments was the big winner here, providing several key components, including: 

  • Processor: OMAP 4430 
  • Power Management: TWL6040 
  • Buck-Boost Converter: PS63020 
  • 4-in-1 Radio IC: WL1283C 

 

The WL1283C was a particularly surprising find, as it was the first time we've seen this kind of IC in a consumer product. Including it in their first tablet was definitely a daring decision for RIM. 

The OMAP 4430 looks similar to the version that we examined in June, although the die markings are slightly different. Is that a D at the end? 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

From a hardware perspective, it stacks up well against the Xoom and the iPad2, and seems fairly well put-together. They used quality components and overall, it looks like a well-put-together product. This leads us to conclude that, if RIM is able to deliver on the software side, this could mature into a solid product. 

The big question now is: Will consumers and businesses wait? 

--Jason White, Product Manager 

Is the PlayBook Fixable?

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Early reviews for RIM's PlayBook are in, and they are decidedly mixed. I won't rehash them for you here, but you can find a good overview over at the DailyTech.

The PlayBook doesn't actually get released until next week, so most of these reviews are from a user interface perspective. Reviewers generally like the new OS from QNX (coincidentally, located just down the street from us), but it seems to be curiously missing what some consider to be key software, including for email and contact management.

Software can be updated. Indeed, reports are that the patches and fixes are coming in fast and furious, even at this late hour. Hardware, on the other hand, can't be tweaked quite so easily. What does the PlayBook look like on the inside? How do the specs stack up against the Xoom and the iPad2?

We'll have some answers for you here on Tuesday. Check back then for breaking updates!

Texas Instruments and National Semiconductor Combined: An Analog Powerhouse

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Over the past 5 years (or more!) we have heard many predictions of the reduced significance of analog semiconductors.  Contrary to this “end of analog” theory, we have seen some large companies actually increase their investment in the analog domain—including Texas Instruments.   With the purchase of National Semiconductor, Texas Instruments further increases their analog semiconductor product portfolio and solidifies their lead in analog semiconductor revenue.

How will this play out?  One commenter describes here TI as a solution provider.  From my experience working with TI at EETimes, I know this is how they wish to be seen.  From MCUs, to ADCs, to Analog Front Ends, to Power Management, TI has many tools to help put together diverse systems. The National acquisition brings more of those tools to the TI toolkit.

But perhaps most interesting are the power management devices in that toolkit.  In our mobile world, long battery life is a vital spec, and TI has some significant design wins in power management of mobile devices.  With the addition of National Semiconductor’s power management portfolio, look for them to continue to push into the mobile power management area.

For insight into what TI is acquiring, have a look at these TechInsights analysis reports on recent National Semiconductor devices.

--Steve Bitton, Product Manager, TechInsights

Inside the Nintendo 3DS

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Earlier this week, EETimes published our work on our teardown of the Nintendo 3DS. Lots of great shots of the teardown, and disclosure of the first fast-cycle RAM (FCRAM) from Fujitsu we're seen.

You can find the full article here at eetimes.com.

--Jason White

Taking a closer look at Panasonic's MN2WS0150 - the world’s first application of gate-first, HKMGtransistor technology

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TechInsights has uncovered the world's first application of gate-first, high-k/metal gate (HKMG) transistor technology in Panasonic’s MN2WS0150 latest system LSI/processor.

Dissecting Panasonic's 32-nm generation processor

In our opinion, as the first company with a commercial product using HKMG transistors in a “gate-first” process, Panasonic has now taken a leadership role in innovative semiconductor manufacturing.  The gate-first process is claimed to be less expensive to implement than the traditional method of manufacturing processors as it requires fewer process steps.  There has been some debate around gate-first vs. gate-last processes at the 32nm generation node with different foundries employing different strategies.

What makes this all the more remarkable is that notable foundries and companies such as Global Foundries, IBM, TSMC and Samsung are still working on introducing variations of gate-first into their manufacturing.  It is very interesting that a company with a lower profile in the manufacturing space like Panasonic has beaten them to market with the MN2WS0150 processor. Even Intel, who achieved HKMG transistors in their design last year, did so using a “gate-last” process.

Also of note, the Panasonic MN2WS0150 processor is also only the second processor, following Intel’s Westmere Clarkdale processor, to scale to the 32-nm process node generation.   Panasonic, however, achieves this new process node for their processor through a unique manufacturing method, different from how Intel achieved their 32-nm process node for their processor.

A look at the cross-section of the Panasonic MN2WS0150  

More information about the Panasonic MN2WS0150 32nm-generation processor will be available shortly as TechInsights completes its investigation of this device.

- Posted by Allan Yogasingam

 

Apple A5 and Dynamic Frequency Scaling

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While our lab was busy settling the speculation over the A5's manufacturer - Samsung or TSMC - another lab made another interesting discovery. iO Snoops performed early testing on the A5, measuring the core clock speed while running a variety of different apps. They found the frequency of the A5 clock varied depending on the app, a significant departure from the steady 1GHz clock observed on the A4.

There are many methods of reducing power consumption, the veritable holy grail of semiconductors destined for mobile devices. Process shrink has been one method, but physical limitations of following Moore's Law make this particular method tougher every process node. Reducing voltage is another method, as anyone familiar with the basic P=IV equation can attest, but static voltage scaling creates signal to noise problems that make high speed digital circuits look very analog.

With Apple turning to dynamic frequency scaling, they are showing that these mobile processors now need to have the same power saving features that Intel and AMD have already implemented in their notebook processors. In fact, nVidia also described their frequency (and voltage) scaling that their Tegra2 is using in a recent white paper. I'm sure other multi-core mobile processors are using frequency scaling as well.

Of course no benefit comes for free, and the cost of intelligent frequency scaling is overhead in power management circuitry (both on and off the processor), and extra  software is required to control the system. However, if Apple's claims on power consumption of the iPad2 are true, the overhead is well worth the savings here.

--Steve Bitton, Technical Intelligence Product Manager  

iPad2 Analysis Underway

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Thursday afternoon, Allan Yogasingam and I travelled down to Syracuse, NY, to pick up a couple of iPads for analysis. The line-up at the Carousel Center was longer than we expected, but it only started to grow late in the afternoon. Since Allan and I were in line by 10AM, we were in the first group through the door.

We joined an eclectic group of Apple enthusiasts similarly motivated to arrive early. The first in line was an elderly fedora-sporting gentleman who had apparently never used an iOS-based product, but was looking forward to his purchase. Immediately beside us was US military Captain Kim, who had driven down from Fort Drum for the event. She was scheduled to leave for Afghanistan for her new posting in Logistics mere hours after the iPad2 went on sale. Stay safe, Captain!

Also present was Jeanine and her 10-year old daughter, of Ithaca, NY, planning a move to Berlin, Germany, in June, and looking forward to using their new iPad2 in their new home. There was the Apple Genius-in-training who just couldn't wait to buy his iPad, and spent several hours helping his fellow consumers with their Apple products, including a memorable first successful Facetime call for a couple of us. All in all, the time passed quickly.

Allan and I made good time back to Ottawa, where we have a team of experts ready to begin their analysis and force the iPad2 to reveal its secrets. What is the A5 processor? Who did Apple choose to provide the flash memory? Did they stick with Qualcomm to provide the 3G connectivity, or have they decided to go in a different direction?

We will have some answers tomorrow. Stay tuned...

-- Jason White, PatentVista Product Manager  

NVidia Tegra2 Pulling Ahead in Tablets

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nVidia continues to chalk up design wins with its Tegra 2 processor in Android tablets.  Why? Are dual ARM cores the key?  How about the high-speed memory interface?  Graphics? Looking across the landscape right now, it’s hard to say.  For example, the TI OMAP 4430 is comparable – dual ARM cores, LPDDR2 interface, it’s been available to developers for quite some time.  Yet they aren’t yet getting near the number of apparent wins.  There are of course the other factors – price, availability and support – where perhaps nVidia came out ahead.

Regardless, what we see is a move towards some serious hardware to support serious operating systems, like Android’s latest.  With nVidia now becoming well entrenched and arguably the dominant platform for Android tablets, other manufacturers will be hard pressed to compete just by keeping up.  They’re going to need a significant edge – either through better specs, or by making a much more attractive sales pitch to the OEMs.  And at this point, it’s unclear if specmanship alone would do the trick.

--Jason Abt, Product Manager, TechInsights

Wireless PAN

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What is PAN?

You’ve heard of LAN and WAN, but what about PAN? If not, you’re not alone. Personal Area Networks, relatively new to the market, are defined as “network[s] for interconnecting devices centered around an individual person's workspace”. Wireless PAN (WPAN) typically refers to technologies dealing with short-range wireless transmissions of, typically, 10 meters (~33 ft.) or less.

Most people can name a few technologies within PAN, the most prominent being Bluetooth. It has been reported well over 3 Billion Bluetooth devices have been manufactured to date with over 1.7B in just 2010. The yearly total is forecasted to exceed 3 billion by 2014.

The WPAN field actually covers other networks as well, though. For instance, have you heard of the Home Area Network (HAN)? How about the Video Area Network (VAN)? And, of course, there is the Body Area Network (BAN)?

New in 2011

The game changer for 2011 is the introduction of Bluetooth 4.0 Low Energy. Seems the Bluetooth guys weren't satisfied with the huge volume of Bluetooth chips in cell phones and computers. Bluetooth 4.0 LE will target the HAN market via wireless sensors. It will also attempt to penetrate the BAN market of wearable body electronics.

The market for wireless heath care devices is set to take off. The Continua Health Care Alliance has actually endorsed both Bluetooth and ZigBee as preferred technologies going forward. Wireless medical electronics will also be fueled by the mobile application market.

Yet another technology coming to market in 2011 is WiFi Direct, which allows any two WiFi-enabled devices (one of which has to be WiFi Direct) to communicate without being on a network; without the need for wireless access points (hot spots). The WiFi guys want to push the Bluetooth guys out.

So, the WPAN market is a battlefield of competing technologies addressing various practical needs, whether for low power or high bandwidth, or a combination of both. A lot of changes are set to occur. It’s a great time to be working in the PAN area.

--Gordon Holstead, Senior Analyst

Chinese Patents - Largest Office in 2011?

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For our recent trends analysis, I researched the number and origin of wireless patent applications in both the US and China. I decided to take that data a little further, and take a closer look at the general patent filing trends for China.

Using updated statistics only recently released by SIPO, the Chinese patent office, I discovered that, astonishingly, the number of Chinese patent applications grew at a rate of 24% over the prior year, an impressive rate not seen in China since 2005. In absolute terms, it looks like it was the single largest year-over-year increase in patent applications ever, in the world.

 YOY_Patent_Application_Growth

We have long known that SIPO was on track to become the world’s largest patent office. As early as 2008, we could have predicted that 2010 would be the year that SIPO took over the Japanese patent office for the #2 spot, and this appears to be the case. This new data shows, however, that 2011 could actually be the year that SIPO leapfrogs the USPTO to take the #1 spot for itself.

 PatentApplicationsPerOffice

If SIPO maintains anything like its past growth rates, this is a real possibility. A lot will depend on the USPTO’s numbers, due out in the spring.

All this begs the question, however: how are companies going to leverage their Chinese patent portfolios?  

Tablets in 2011

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Tablets are, predictably, all the rage at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona this year. We’ve had the opportunity to teardown several of the most popular tablets to date, including the Apple iPad and the Samsung Galaxy Tab. This area is growing and developing even faster than the smartphone market, and it shows no sign of slowing down.

NVIDIA Tegra and Samsung Orion processors are leading the mobile processor field to date. These devices are quickly building an early lead, and many tablet developers not utilizing these standard chipsets will quickly find themselves at a serious disadvantage to their competitors.

On the operating system front, Apple iOS and Google Android are quickly dominating the market in the high-end and low-end tablet markets, respectively. Meanwhile, Nokia has effectively abandoned its MeeGo offering in favour of Microsoft’s Windows 7, and RIM is expected to delay release of the Playbook until April. This only gives iOS and Android more time to build their lead, making them early favorites in this race.

We've posted a bunch of our most recent tablet teardown content on our new trends page. Let us know what you think!

--Allan Yogasingam, Technical Marketing Manager  

SSDs will win high-end laptop market

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Solid state storage will replace hard disk drives in almost all high-end (>$1000) laptops

A combination of NAND Flash process technology improvements and advanced packaging has allowed more memory to fit into smaller spaces.  SSD manufacturers are also starting to get away from traditional hard drive form factors as evidenced by the Toshiba Blade X-gale SSD found in the MacBook Air and the recent announcement of Intel’s miniature 80GB SSD.  Solid state storage already provides storage for high-end smart phones and tablets, and I expect more design wins in the laptop/notebook space.

Rise of the dual-core mobile processor

As Bob mentioned, the nVidia Tegra 2 attracted a lot of attention at CES this year.  It will not be the only dual-core mobile processor to come out in a mobile application this year.  We are expecting to see Samsung’s first dual-core applications processor to show up in a high end Samsung smart phone or tablet.  Also, Qualcomm continues to pack more processing power into their baseband processors with the arrival of the dual-core Snapdragons

Now the question is the same as for multi-core processors on the PC and server side—will the software/operating systems be able to use the full functionality of the two cores?  Android 3.0 (code named Honeycomb) brings promise of better core utilization.  Multiple “Honeycomb” dual-core tablets were introduced at CES from major players such as Motorola, LG, and Toshiba.  Google did debunk the myth that Honeycomb will ONLY work on dual-cores—it is just optimized to do so.  I expect to see more dual-core processors in smart phones and tablets this year.

--Steve Bitton, Product Manager at TechInsights

Are Tablets a Category Buster?

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Our final two forecasts for 2011 come from our product managers. Jason Abt shares his thoughts on tablet design in the coming year.

Jason Abt

There's been lots of interest of course in the processor design wins in the mobile space, but there are some associated design decisions that are going to be just as interesting for me. The intense focus on mobile products over the years have been pushing the envelope for both size and power. We’ve seen many methods of reducing the footprint and height of packages – die thinning and stacking, process shrinks, package-on-package to name a few. We’ve also seen plenty of attention paid to power consumption.

We will undoubtedly see continued progress in these areas, with consumers demanding longer battery life and more capability from their mobile devices.  We will soon see mainstream use of Through-Silicon Vias (TSVs) to provide ever more complex chip-to-chip connectivity. We will see the demand for faster and faster memory access speeds from relatively heavy duty operating systems running on big, multi-core processors.

 

But to me, tablets are a category-buster, that might – in some regards – buck the trend.

Many would argue that current tablets are really just smart phones in a bigger package. At least from the user perspective.  But what about on the inside?  Suddenly, system designers have much more area to play with compared to a phone. Why not take advantage of that?

As we see more tablets from more manufacturers, I’m expecting to see some interesting cost-cutting measures on the design side vs. equivalent smart phones.  Why incur the added cost of using package-on-package for your processor and DRAM (and likely costly LPDDR2) when you can use a standard package and standalone DDR2? Do you really need a super-thin 8-die stack of Flash crammed into one package? You’ve got the space - why not use it?

As long as the user experience doesn’t suffer (and sure you could argue about power consumption) I think tablet makers – notably those with equivalent smart phones – will be jumping at the opportunity.  Especially if consumers are willing to pay as much – or even more – for a super-sized version of what arguably does the same thing.

2011 - Bob's Picks

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Tablets, Tablets, Tablets...

Bob Widenhofer, Senior Analyst for TechInsights, thinks tablets will feature prominently in 2011. Here's his take:

I think that I'd pay a little more for a 7-inch tablet than I would for a dedicated book reader of similar screen quality.  This makes the Samsung Galaxy Tab a contender in my books. I think it'll still be around next year because it beat the flood of Android-based tablets to market, and did so with a 1GHz processor, decent cameras, 3G + WiFi connectivity, and a decent display to boot.

In the larger-screen category, I'm intrigued by the 10-inch tablets with Nvidia Tegra-2 dual-core processors.  In particular, the as-yet-unnamed 10.1" entry from Toshiba has my attention.  Toshiba laptops have a fine track record for balancing quality, performance, and price. I own a couple myself. The retail price has not been announced, but if it's less expensive than an iPad, I think this one will succeed.  If not, there are some down-market entries with similar specs (MSI, Foxconn) that I think will grab a niche market in the ~$400 range.  It seems certain that the Tegra-2 processor will gain traction somewhere in this market.

I don't think we'll see Windows 7 tablets with 10-inch displays doing well.  This seems an awful lot like a netbook with a touchscreen instead of a keyboard.  Any unit of this type at a price point above $450 is, in my opinion, unlikely to thrive in 2011.

2011 - Allan's Picks

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As a way of kicking off the New Year, 4 of our experts weighed in with their predictions for technology in 2011. These posts are always fun, and give us something to brag and/or laugh about at this time next year.

To kick things off, Allan Yogasingam, Technical Marketing Manager at TechInsights, shares his predictions for 2011.

Allan’s Picks for 2011

Processors

2011 will be the year of the processor. More and more we are going to see the introduction of processors that can be used for multiple applications.  Gone will be the days that your mobile phone had a mobile processor, your laptop had a laptop-specific processor and your PC had its own CPU.

We saw the beginning of this trend with the introduction of Apple’s A4 processor, which we found in both the iPad and the iPhone4, and later, impressively, in the second generation Apple TV. Samsung followed suit with their Hummingbird processor in their Galaxy smartphones and the Galaxy Tab.  2011 sees the introduction of the AMD Fusion – the first hybrid CPU/GPU and I fully believe we’ll see this processor in not only smartphone applications, but also tablets and laptop computers.

Tablets

The real battle for tablet supremacy will be between bitter rivals Apple and RIM. Jobs landed the first blow when he claimed that 7” tablets would fail, drawing harsh criticism of the iPad by Jim Balsillie. I couldn’t care less about the war of words between these two egomaniacs, but I am very interested to see if the Playbook and its interoperability with Blackberry devices can make a significant impact in a tablet market solely dominated by Apple at the moment.

Also, look for a flurry of innovation in the home automation industry, utilizing software and wireless computing to automate the home.

3D TV

Lastly, somewhat less-than-optimistically, I predict that 3D television will be considered a failure by the end of the year. Based on the steep costs of the individual television units, the 3D Blu-Ray players, and even the required bulky glasses, 3D TV is doomed to be nothing more than a niche product, enjoyed by those who enjoy being the first to have cutting edge technology in their living room.

The rest of society will have their interest piqued, but will pass feeling that the content (i.e. what cable providers and Hollywood are offering in terms of programming) is not enough to warrant the price commitment.  This won’t stop companies like LG, Sony and Panasonic from continuing to develop new televisions and 3D technology throughout the year, in the hopes that 3D could be the new golden goose.