Convergence is finally here, reports In-Stat

14 Jul 2006

For years, we've heard about the impending convergence of computer, communications and consumer electronic devices, but it seems the stars are finally aligned to produce a new generation of devices that offer a wider range of features and performance.
In-Stat believes the reason these so-called convergence devices have been slow to materialize is a result of the complexity of the market, which includes the impact of new technologies, consumer usage models, considerable competition, and essential infrastructure and services.
Not all segments of the market necessarily require devices that combine multiple functions, such as the home and office.
The mobile consumer will seek to combine multiple functions into a few devices, if not one.
The first signs of the transition are still evident as cell phones added digital cameras and PDAs added video, but the next generation truly bridges the gap by providing the same or similar experiences to the mainstream standalone devices. So, what has changed‾
The key drivers are the combination of new technologies and new usage models, or what In-Stat refers to as market inflection points.
The market is already encountering many of these market inflection points.
Several key technologies will become key enablers: wireless point-to-point interfaces, such as wireless USB or IP over ultra-wideband; long-range wireless broadband communications; and voice-over IP. These technologies, in conjunction with evolving usage models, such as mobile entertainment, the portable office, and the sharing of digital information, will drive the move to new mobile convergence devices.
The first wave of convergence devices, like the smart phone and ultramobile PC, leave much to be desired, but they are the first steps in product evolution and market development that future semiconductor growth will build on.
To understand the true potential of converged devices, consider that unit shipments of mobile electronics were close to 1.05 billion units in 2005, and are forecasted by In-Stat to increase to more than 2.16 billion units in 2010.
Although the emergence of the true convergence device could theoretically reduce this total figure, In-Stat believes the impact on the total number is minimal over the next decade, because standalone devices will still be prevalent in the cost-sensitive segments of the market.
The effect on semiconductor demand and technology, however, is dramatic.
The most prominent of three factors influencing future semiconductor design will be power consumption. It is a significant challenge to provide increasing functionality, like that of a PC, while maintaining eight or more hours of battery life. As the PC market pushed transistor design to increasing levels of performance, this new generation of convergence devices will create a need for new materials and increased power efficiency in transistor design and semiconductor manufacturing.
The second key factor will be the physical size of semiconductor components. Die stacking is already a common method of achieving higher levels of memory density, but combining stacked logic and memory into the same package to reduce size while increasing memory performance will also become more common.
The final factor will be logic complexity, as each manufacturer seeks to increase the performance and functionality of its device. This complexity must also be paired with more modular designs that allow individual functions to be powered up or disabled for improved power management.

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