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Handhelds, autos focus on consumer experience

Posted: 01 Jan 2007 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:UWB? wireless technology? WUSB? automotive safety? automotive semiconductor?

As new portable devices emerge, the attention shifts to wireless connectivity, storage, audio, power consumption and interference hurdles. In recent years, portable devices have been designed to make A/V entertainment more accessible and enjoyable for consumers. Adding wireless connectivity in handhelds has become necessary, along with integrating more audio, video, image and gaming functions. Today, integration is still the trend.

As portable electronic products become popular worldwide, flash memory is taking a forward leap in the handheld market. When Apple launched its NAND-based iPod Nano as a substitute for the HDD-based iPod Mini, the global storage industry started to shift to flashan important milestone. Industry analysts claim that this iPod model alone spurred the growth of the flash memory market in 2005. This strong upward momentum is expected to continue in 2007.

Power management for portables, on the other hand, is evolving to achieve smaller size, higher efficiency and more flexibility. As new functions replace old ones, new control solutions, faster control of power rails, and communications between digital processors and their simulated power-management components are expected to improve. Batteries become more intelligent as a result of real-time adjustment of power consumption, processor power-saving schemes and optimization of loaded voltage rails. These enhancements also significantly extend standby, talk or playback time as all the available system functions are used.

UWB growth
Highly regarded in the personal area network (PAN) arena for its low power consumption, UWB is sought after by both the direct sequence UWB (DS-UWB) and Multiband OFDM Alliance camps. Just as the path to standardization of wireless USB (WUSB) was littered with issues, UWB's development route is also laden with incessant "wars." Today, technology suppliers are aggressively pursuing its commercialization. However, industry insiders believe that applications such as high-definition video, computers and their peripherals create more opportunities for UWB development. According to them, China should bear this in mind and capitalize on UWB's advantages to develop new applications.

The application of UWB is indeed growing in China. Dozens of companies have expanded from wireless multimedia to WUSB and are pursuing their own R&D initiatives on UWB modules to develop new products. Liu Qingtao, director of the Intelligent Grouping and Resource Sharing (IGRS) Center, believes that UWB is best suited for computers and their peripherals.

"The UWB technology has some attractive features and limitations," Qingtao said. "For example, the short operating distance is not very attractive to users. Research is still needed to explore the application scenarios and product forms of UWB. Currently, IGRS is looking at R&D. UWB technology is still far from finding a commercial application."

On the other hand, some experts paint a rosy picture for UWB. They believe that "in the coming years, as the number of mobile multimedia devices increases and PAN grows, there will be a huge market for UWB. Its low power consumption and high speed will make it the undisputable king of PAN." However, they claim that UWB should first play its role in video sharing among cellphones, digital video and CD/DVD players, and TVs in China.

For OEMs in China, determining which UWB technology to use is not the most urgent task. What concerns them more is the need for China enterprises to keep up with the trend and develop their core technologies. Chinese terminal manufacturers could develop new applications by making the most of UWB technology's advantages.

Steer to safety
In the automotive sector, ICs are driven by the call for improvement in car intelligence and for a "safe, environment-friendly and energy-efficient" vehicle. Car makers are exerting all efforts to equip vehicles with good safety and comfort-related features, all of which are enabled by ICs and electronics. According to Strategy Analytics, the market value of global automotive ICs will increase from $16.4 billion in 2005 to $20 billion in 2009, with safety- and comfort-related applications accounting for more than 50 percent of the total.

The global semiconductor market is projected to grow by 10 percent annually, especially as automotive electronics quickly penetrates the market and IC solutions gradually replace mechanical components. Rapid expansion and tight competition in the automotive electronics segment is making the China automotive market increasingly complicated.

As industry experts point out, automotive electronics is shifting to digital processing. Solutions that integrate multiple processes such as bipolar, CMOS and power into a silicon chip are deemed better than those that handle them separately.

Car safety has greatly improved in recent years, with the government implementing safety laws and regulations, and customers prioritizing safety. While automakers have introduced safety belts and air bags to reduce injuries in case of accidents, they are now focusing on developing technologies that prevent them.

In the future, automotive semiconductors will become the foundation of innovation, quality, reliability and safety in vehicles.

Automotive electronics companies in China are in the early stages of product development, starting with automobile stereos and accident-prevention applications. Due to their small size, local firms are having difficulty getting the cooperation of large automakers. Given the situation, it would do well for them to work with component suppliers that have the technical know-how and commitment to develop high-quality automotive electronic solutions.

Cindy Hu
EE Times China

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