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'Challenges in designing mobile devices'

Posted: 06 Dec 2012     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:Mobile Applications  smartphones  Design Challenges  EDA 

Trends Driving Complexity in Designing Mobile Applications: Over the last few years, we have seen an explosion in the demand for electronics in India. As reported in the National Policy on Electronics, "The demand in the Indian market was Rs.2.39 lakh crore ($45 billion) in 2008-09 and is expected to reach Rs.21.28 lakh crore ($400 billion) by 2020."

 Cadence' Ahuja

Ahuja: Close collaboration among designers, EDA vendors, and other ecosystem players will help mitigate some of the design challenges.

While there are several reasons for this trend, one of the major disruptive factors has been the booming consumer demand for high-end mobile devices. The new wave of mobile devices marks the era of smartphones, tablets, and notebooks that bring with them increased functionality, smaller form factor, and greater speed at lower costs.

Apart from the demand for more attractive and faster gadgets, another factor causing design complexity is user experience. Today, the root of differentiation in consumer electronics and mobile devices is user experience. Consumers are demanding devices on which games, music, cameras, internet access, and other apps all run simultaneously and seamlessly. From a designer's perspective, enabling a superior user experience through apps and other functionalities translates to a host of technical challenges.

For example, applications for mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets demand more CPU performance, 24/7 wireless and wired connectivity, higher bandwidth and memory, and better display/multimedia performance. These requirements must be accomplished within a power budget that allows for long battery life and low-cost packaging.

Many semiconductor companies that design chips for mobile and consumer applications have moved to advanced node designs to help tackle these challenges. This article discusses some of the challenges in designing mobile applications and the latest technologies being adopted to help overcome them.

Design Challenges

Application-driven approach: Today's designs are application-driven, meaning that software functionalities and apps drive many of the requirements for designing the hardware. Therefore, design requires a top-down approach as opposed to the traditional one in which the hardware was built first and then the software was added (a bottom-up approach). Rather than designing the hardware first, developing the software and designing the hardware should be a parallel process. This gives rise to new EDA technologies that enable early software development using software models of system hardware long before silicon is ready.

One of these new EDA technologies is virtual platforms (or virtual prototypes), which make it possible to develop and debug software using a high-level model of system hardware. Virtual platforms are used very early in the design cycle. Other types of hardware/software integration platforms, including emulation and rapid FPGA prototyping, are used later. Integration among virtual platforms, simulation, emulation, and rapid prototyping is essential.

The growing significance of software applications and complex functionalities needs a much deeper integration of software and hardware development. Today, systems companies ask not only for integrated circuits (ICs), but for complete packages of integrated hardware/software components—including device drivers, operating systems, middleware, and possibly reference applications—ready to be directly incorporated into the system.

Intellectual property: Another important trend is the growing use of externally-developed semiconductor intellectual property (IP), which makes it unnecessary to develop an entire advanced-node system on chip (SoC) from scratch. With today's shortened time-to-market windows, the time savings accrued through using IP for non-differentiating functionality is invaluable in getting the chip to market faster than your competitors.

Today it is not uncommon for 80 per cent of an SoC to consist of pre-designed, pre-verified semiconductor IP, including a processor from a provider such as ARM. SoCs for mobile consumer applications also contain analogue IP that allows interfaces to the real world through graphics, sound, and video.

Increased bandwidth and memory: The demand for increasing memory channel bandwidth is mounting rapidly in smart devices such as smartphones and tablets. The LPDDR2 SDRAM memory interface standard is widely used in mobile devices. The LPDDR3 standard, published in May 2012, offers a higher data rate, improved bandwidth, better power efficiency, and higher memory density compared to LPDDR2.

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