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MediaTek sets sights on under-$50 wearable devices

Posted: 06 Feb 2014 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:MediaTek? wearable device? SoC? smartwatch? Bluetooth 4.0?

MediaTek has announced its "all-in-one" SoC, called Aster, which is sampling only to a select group of customers. It features an ARM7 ESJ, Bluetooth 4.0/Bluetooth Low Energy, power management IC, and memory (4MB of flash and 4MB of SRAM). Available in a 5.4 x 6mm package, the company added that Aster is the "smallest SoC" with "highest integration" for wearable devices.

Aster also comes with a comprehensive application framework. Its run-time environment will make it easy for users to install and upgrade apps and run them on wearable devices, according to MediaTek.

With an ear close to the ground in China, Taiwan's MediaTek appears to know about something not readily evident to most system vendors and chip companies in the West: a surge in Chinese consumer demand for new gizmos designed to leverage the power of smartphones.

"Innovation can come up very quickly in China compared to Western society," Cliff Lin, senior director of MediaTek's US corporate marketing, told EE Times.

MediaTek's Aster, together with the company's wearable "turnkey solutions," is designed to let a thousand flowers bloom in a number of new consumer devices, ranging from a Bluetooth dialer to a smartwatch. These devices are meant to be wirelessly connected to a smartphone, a device already ubiquitous.

It's important to note that these wearable devices MediaTek has in mind are not positioned to replace smartphones, an idea sharply divergent from the hopeful thinking, more popular in the West, that wearable devices will supplant phones.

A Bluetooth dialer, for example, is, technically, not a phone. But the sleek, convenient device helps a user dial or receive a call without forcing her to haul a bulky tablet or phablet out of her bag.

Some in the industry, especially in the West, might argue that calling such a device, whose function appears to be simply a remote-control unit inside an already available smartphone, "wearable" is an overstatement.

After all, today's wearable devices, if loosely defined, are all over the map, ranging from wristwatches, shoes and glasses to headbands, clothing and home healthcare devices, with no killer wearable form factor on the horizon, at least not yet.

Different wearable devices demand a different set of sensors. They also come in different shapes and sizes, as they will be worn on different parts of the body. Their evolutionary trajectory suggests that they will be far more diverse and complex than mere remote-control units in smartphones.

And the fact is, many smartwatches on the market today are designed for just that purpose. Besides email, voice mail and social network message notifications, a smartwatch can control various functions of a smartphone remotely.

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