The beginning of a year brings with it the potential of many new things; resolutions, good habits and of course the new gadgets that promise to change our lives at CES. Amidst the glitz of promises of longer, healthier and more fulfilling lives, the first major trade show of 2016 serves a useful purpose in allowing observers to take stock of where the industry is headed over the next 12 months. From covering the event, here are some of the key takeaways I have for the year ahead.
On a macro-level, it was not surprising to see that more than 900 companies at the show said they had Internet of Things products. The Internet of Things is a giant ecosystem with millions of potential products, including some 200 that Samsung have included as part of their Smart Things. This year some of their attention-grabbing gadgets included a smart belt which tells if you’re eating too much based on tension (thank goodness they launched this after the holiday season), a smart suit that uses NFC and even a smart golf shirt that can tell the UV rays of the sunshine. Going forward the IoT still needs standards that ensure that cross-vendor solutions work together, but there is a lot of work going on in the ecosystem to make sure that happens. To help accelerate the Internet of Things gaining traction, ARM launched the IoT subsystem for Cortex®-M at Computex last year and has partnered with Beijing-based accelerator Thundersoft to provide an incubator for IoT startups in China.
An interesting announcement came out on the Thursday as MediaTek unveiled three systems-on-chip. The SoCs are designed for wearable devices, smart home applications and Ultra-HD (4K) Blu-ray players.
The MT2523 is powered by a Cortex-M4 processor, while the MT7697 and MT8581 utilise a Cortex-A53 processor. They have all been finely tweaked to suit the power and performance requirements and could herald a new period where SoCs are highly geared towards the requirements of their target application. It shows that as niche markets are emerging, companies are producing SoCs that are optimized for particular use cases. ARM's CoreSight™ debug and trace technology was used for performance optimization in the SoC bring-up phase to ensure each chip hits its performance targets.
Another ARM partner, Broadcom, announced a new chip that promises to boost next-gen router performance. The BCM4908 is a 64-bit quad-core processor that can deliver high speed Internet speeds into the home, while also saving some CPU bandwidth to power Internet of Things applications within the future smart home. It does this through combining a quad-core ARM CPU with three Broadcom radios, each with an integrated CPU for host offload processing.
One of the highlights of CES was the appearance of the Huawei Mate 8. This is a flagship smartphone by the Chinese OEM that includes the Kirin 950 SoC under the covers, an octa-core chip that combines four Cortex-A72 processors with four Cortex-A53 processors, with the CoreLink™ CCI-400 cache coherent interconnect providing inter-cluster coherency in the big.LITTLE™ formation. As well as a Mali™-T880 GPU to deliver the highest-quality immersive gaming, the SoC was developed using CoreSight debug and trace for rapid system optimization. On-chip virtualization is supported by the CoreLink MMU-500 system memory management unit and the CoreLink GIC-400 generic interrupt controller. The 16 megapixel camera and 4,000mAh battery demonstrate that it is targeting the premium end of the market, with shipments expected to arrive in the UK in the coming months. Finally, as security from attack and content protection become increasingly relevant in system design, the Kirin 950 made use of the TZC-380 TrustZone™ address space controller to support the ARM TrustZone system-wide approach to security by protecting selected memory regions and peripherals such as screens and keypads.
The wearable market continues to gain momentum around certain use cases, most notably fitness and ‘the quantified self’. Wearables continued to be a point of excitement, as a number of manufacturers showcased their latest editions, including Samsung, Huawei, Casio and Fitbit. Worldwide shipments of wearables reached 21 million units in Q3 of 2015, almost three times the amount of the previous year. Over 95% of the wearables market is based on ARM, and in 2016 there are large growth expectations as 111 million wearable devices have been predicted to be sold, according to research analysts at IDC. In more news of collaborations, Under Armour teamed up with HTC to release a suite of wearable devices to promote health and fitness. The wristband, heart rate monitor and weighing scales are all synchronised with Under Armour’s fitness apps to track progress and dynamically design challenges for users to stay motivated and help meet their goals.
Using the show as a barometer, it is intriguing to see the general trend of where companies are focusing their attention and resources for the year ahead. It’s clear to see that the ARM partnership has spread itself across the entire spectrum of consumer electronics for the year to come. If you’re hungry for more news of what to expect this year, ARM tweeted 16 predictions for 2016 which you can find here. Let me know your opinions on tech trends in 2016 by leaving a comment below.