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It’s well known that Apple has a hissy fit of epic proportions if anyone dares mention their association with a new product design. That goes for any chips, boards, interfaces, firmware, software, or devices that are remotely connected with any new product, be it an iPod, iPad or iPhone.
Apple is not alone in this policy.
Systems manufacturers are investing tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of dollars in new product development. Design cycles for bleeding-edge products are still long, but their complexity is increasing even faster. Dramatic changes are often made right up to the last few months. Deadlines are demanding and specifications are ambitious. Secrecy is therefore extremely important; it can make the difference between a six-month window of uncontested leadership, or a “me-to” introduction of little or no importance.
Of course, by keeping design plans top secret, companies such as Apple, HTC, Hewlett-Packard and others necessarily keep the spotlight off dozens or even hundreds of suppliers involved in each product development. In many cases, the suppliers themselves aren’t aware of much beyond who they might competing with for a particular aspect of the project.
Typically, the suppliers’ only goal is to beat a spec, achieve a design challenge, or somehow speed up the process…while saving money, of course.
Only the system integrator has the full 360 degree view of what is going on.
And if you are Apple, that can work. If you’re not, don’t count on being successful this way. Here’s why.
In addition to being a magnificent system integrator, Apple is also uniquely tuned to the needs of the end user — the mobile consumer. With its proprietary applications and a world-class database of thousands of user apps, the company has insight into user behavior that is the envy of every systems analyst in the business.
This insight enabled Apple to respond to mobile user needs that others can’t even define.
Apple didn’t just build the iPad to be unique.
The iPad was designed to fill a growing void – the space between the rapidly expanding social media community and the quickly dying paper-based publishing industry. How is a publisher to make money competing against thousands of bloggers for penny-stock ads and clicks-per-view? Apple imagined the answer: by creating an electronic publishing platform. Not that it hadn’t already been done … the Kindle has been out there for years … but older platforms lacked the performance, features and connectivity of the iPad. They also lacked the Apple Apps Store, which was a natural entry point for publishers to feed subscription or fee-based services to users. Of course, the iPad is also excellent for viewing movies and playing video games, which are also easily supported by these services.
The Apple iPhone 4 is another pure leap forward, but not without vision. Apple knew that mobile users had reached and crossed into bold new territory: the realm of high-bandwidth streaming video. Apple also knew exactly what that challenge looked like: Netflix. So they made it an app, and added a super-high resolution “retinal” display with hardened glass. They also knew that bloggers and tech savvy kids wanted the ability to livestream in videoconference mode, so they added a second, forward-facing camera. And, to enhance the user experience on social media sites and online publications, they added an iAds capability that allows users to click through to an ad without being taken away from the app they were on. This is a great new feature that will also deliver rich new metrics for advertisers.
It would be easy to shrug and walk away from Apple’s recent announcements saying, “Well, they are the most highly valued tech company in America. Not everyone can create a category-making product.”
But in fact, anyone can.
And there’s really only two things you need: an acute understanding of end-user needs, and a bold methodology for delivering them in silicon and software.
This is the premise of the EDA36o Vision proposed by Cadence Design Systems. Hardware design cannot function independent of software design, and software design cannot be achieved without a clear understanding of how hardware features can be used to fulfill real-world, end-user needs. Not just performance specs, but actual user applications.
This isn’t just a vision or a goal; it’s an emerging reality. We all need to have a 360-degree understanding of what a given market needs, and how to fulfill those expectations.
We all have to think and act like system integrators, not just designers of some small portion of a larger project with a code name, an undefined market and an even more nebulous application set. Those days are over.
A graphically-intensive game app will need a fast processor, but a hot chip will need a big expensive fan. A dual or stacked chip might run cooler and faster, and on-chip memory will preserve performance. Videoconferencing and movies will require integration of analog and digital capabilities, no room for debate on this. Power consumption needs to be dynamically controlled from the software stack all the way through to individual IP blocks on the chip, and shut-down or power-up commands for those blocks need to be simulated at system speed before the chip reaches first silicon. Verification of blocks, chips and boards has to start on day one – because it saves money. Complexity, form factor, power, performance and cost are all conspiring to bring system designers in dialog with chip designers and software developers, because ultimately, they are all focused on the same end-user goals.
Apple proved with the iPad introduction that there are still product categories waiting to be defined, but the good news is, they are highly granular.
The electronics industry is still accelerating and expanding in wild new ways. The beauty of it is, once you get this, everyone else wants to get on board, too. And whether you keep it your little secret or tell the whole world, you’ve already made a great leap ahead.
So, what is your vision?
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[Photos courtesy of Engadget]