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Freescale wearable design platform targets triad of concerns

Posted: 08 Jan 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Freescale? wearable device? Internet of Things? reference design?

Wearable devices have been making noise for quite some time. In fact, at the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a number of vendors will be unveiling their own wearable devices that include wristwatches, shoes, headbands, goggles, etc.

What no one knows is whether any of these wearables will turn out to be manufacturable in the foreseeable future, let alone become the hottest new gadget to take the world by storm.

Further, today's allegedly wearable devices might bear no resemblance to the wearable devices of 2015.

Robert Thompson, Freescale Semiconductor's i.MX development manager, observed that it's not unusual to find wearable device developers canceling their initial product plans within three months into development. They tear up the initial idea, redefine the product all over again, add or delete features (scale up or down the product concept), and come up something entirely different.

The cautionary message is that the wearable device market is still uncharted territory for everyone, incumbents and non-branded OEMs included. Everyone's still scrambling for a winning formula and a definition of wearable devices.

Thompson nonetheless stated that the wearable market is not a question of if, but a matter of when.

Indeed, in the age of the Internet of Things (IoT), a popular belief is that every object, or every human with a wearable device, will eventually become an end node of the IoT.

However, no one actually has a firm grip on how a truly popular wearable device might look, what its killer feature might be, whose (connectivity, sensor, power and software) technology it should incorporate, and how units should be sold to which market.

With all this uncertainty, Freescale sees an opportunity in enabling a yet-to-be-defined wearable market. The company is rolling out at CES this week what it calls the industry's first reference design for wearable devices, a platform flexible enough for a host of applications ranging from fitness and healthcare to "infotainment."

On one end of the spectrum, wearable device developers can find such boards as Raspberry Pi and Arduino, aimed at the maker and student communities. The boards can help these users quickly build wearable prototypes of their own.

On the other end of the spectrum, wearable device developers see the Toq smartwatch, which Qualcomm plans to manufacture. The wireless chip giant's long-term intention, however, is to use Toq as a platform, showing tier-one customers the infinite potential of wearable devices.

Freescale positions its wearable reference platform, called WaRP, in the middle of that spectrum. The company's reference design is not tied to one form factor such as Qualcomm's Toq smartwatch. It offers a much broader, more scalable solution than Raspberry Pi or Arduino, Thompson explained.

Unlike a new generation of smartphone OEMs in the emerging market, which know exactly what their next smartphone models should look like (e.g., Samsung's Galaxy S III or an Apple iPhone S5 look-alike), most wearable device developers remain clueless.

The first pitfall is product definition.

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