The DSP/embedded market will go through a variety of changes in coming years as a plethora of changes in the electronics' market are forcing new developments in processing. The convergence of applications, the need for smaller sizes, the necessity of better energy efficiency, the demand for greater functionality, the concern for environmental friendliness and the growing trend toward medical monitoring at home — all of these factors are creating new opportunities and sizable challenges for the DSP market. Any one of these market pressures would be enough to drive innovation. All totaled, they will produce major changes in coming years.
Convergence is a big innovation driver. The iPhone is just the latest example of a small portable device with multiple formats. "In the 1990s, DSP was voice oriented, but now we're seeing multi formats," says Wayne Meyer, product line manager at Analog Devices Inc. "Now you have a convergence of applications. You have this cell phone that's like a small computer, media player and network device. Consumers have high expectations that it will play seamlessly and look great." For the processor, that means interfacing and talking with Ethernet while currently running the media player.
And the device has to be small. "We have to put more into a package," says Murugavel Raju, strategic marketing manager MSB430 at Texas Instruments. "That means higher densities and smaller geometries, more functionality." Energy management plays a big role if the device is running multiple functions. "You need to identify the peak energy demand and high energy use, so you need more processing and memory for energy metering," says Raju. He says the pressure for greater energy efficiency is coming from two fronts — the need to conserve battery power for portable devices and the growing concern over the environment. "We see more demand than we've seen in the past to extend battery life," says Raju. "But we also keep hearing about global warming everywhere. So, power consumption and the energy rating are becoming more important."
On another front, there is an emerging trend — which will become a major trend very soon — to move medical monitoring into the home. The desire for home-based equipment is coming from patients who don't want to sit in the hospital just to be monitored. It's also coming from the health care industry that doesn't want to keep patients in pricey rooms for monitoring alone. As the baby boom ages, this need will grow significantly. "Medical devices are moving into the home," says Raju. "That means more processing power in smaller devices."