- O.K., it's the year 2000. What can we expect for Embedded Systems? Here's my predictions:
Everyone's looking for new applications, new systems "Internet Appliances" to embed a TCP/IP stack. The non-news of 2000 is that the fastest growing Embedded Internet market segment is going to be the traditional high-growth embedded systems applications - Industrial Automation, security systems, motor control, industrial control. Why look for new market segments when there are existing customers out there already for this stuff?
What this means also is that the companies that didn't "get it" before, that don't know how to service microcontroller customers (good docs, good support, great tools for all customers big and small) will not be able to partake of the Embedded Internet market. Look for Motorola to extend their reach with TCP/IP stacks for their CPU32. NETsilicon is going to methodically (and successfully) go after Industrial Control networks on the factory floor. National Semiconductor is going to implement a carefully planned strategy with their easy to use CompactRISC products. US Software, with their staff of 15+ tech support engineers, is probably going to be the winner in TCP/IP with RTOS solutions. And expect ZiLOG to surprise everybody with some revolutionary products that will add ease of use of embedded internet for existing embedded systems developers.
Note that all these solutions include real TCP/IP stacks - not proprietary serial protocols masquerading as TCP/IP stacks, such as the iPIC.
Personal Internet Appliances
A few innovative Personal Internet Appliances (PIA) are being introduced to the marketplace in the form of portable mail stations. There will be lots of fanfare surrounding each product introduction. They will initially see some acceptance in the marketplace, but will see serious competition as the price of PDAs come down, similar to the way WebTV couldn't compete with low-priced PCs. In the end, a segment will be carved out for under-$100 devices based on 16-bit microcontrollers with on-chip flash. Why? Because x86 processors require too much OS overhead (read: memory & clock speed requirements) that make them too expensive for these applications. And the price of external Flash memory chips have been fluctuating wildly, making their use too volatile for cost-efficient systems.
Embedded Internet in Home Appliances
It will flop. None of the home appliance manufacturers I've contacted are seriously working on this strategy. I haven't seen any surveys that say consumers will purchase these items. Introducing networked home appliances for the purposes of pre-failure diagnostics is a Marketing 101 mistake, similar to why airlines don't promote their safety records - it introduces the specter of product failure in the mind of the consumer.
Despite predictions to the contrary, the venerable 8051 will not die this year. It will never die. There are too many tools, too many systems, too many engineers out there programming it. May it live forever.
National Semiconductor will revive the COP8 with some surprising new products with a faster clock speed.
Philips Semiconductor, once again, will do nothing innovative with their microcontrollers, except maybe a Controller Area Network (CAN) strategy to expand their handful of existing CAN 8-bit microcontrollers.
Microchip will add new flavors to its PIC12, PIC16, etc. products, but it's the PIC18 that will take center stage. Five, maybe six new PIC18s in 2000 (with different package options), sporting CAN interfaces and other networking peripherals will debut.
Motorola, to no one's surprise, won't be doing much with its 68HC05 and 68HC11 products, instead choosing to focus on their flash-based 68HC908 products.
Scenix will continue to focus on applications in Southeast Asia because of their CEO's extensive experience in that market, but don't expect much headway in the U.S. and Europe due to their lack of an adequate distributor network.
Onward and Upward - 16-bits+
Motorola will introduce a next generation to the M*Core that will be low power, low cost, and have plenty of Flash. Hitachi will retain its position as the #1 supplier of 16-bit microcontrollers, but only because Infineon has not yet been able to address the high power consumption of their terrific C167 16-bit microcontroller.
Texas Instruments may grab more 16-bit market share with their innovative and low power MSP430 if they can just divert their PR focus from DSPs.
Expect anyone licensing Flash from TSMC or SST to have reliable, functional Flash microcontrollers of 16K or more.
Digital Signal Processors
Texas Instruments will maintain and hold their lead in the DSP market. They've got too much momentum for anyone to even come close, although Analog Devices' 32-bit SHARC is planning a fight with some cost-effective new products for 2000. ADI's easy to use 16-bit DSP, the ADSP-2100, will languish, waiting for the joint ADI-Intel register-based 16-bit DSP to obsolete it. The question is, will it make it to market before TI's 16-bit register-based DSP?
Look for Motorola to make some advances with their 56K DSP architecture. Now that they've bought Metrowerks they've got in-house development tools like Texas Instruments (Go-DSP, probably the best DSP development environment available) and Analog Devices (White Mountain DSP, Edinburgh Portable Compilers).
Harsh reality: the good will get better, and the bad will fail. With the expansion of personal contacts of embedded systems engineers via email, newsgroups, and websites, word of mouth will case attrition in the development tools marketplace. Witness the disappearance of the in-circuit emulator company Dr. Krohn & Stiller (web site down) - their products were highly unstable, and thanks to email and newsgroups their problems became universally known.
For programming language, there will always be C and assembly, while C++ will gain a few more points of market share. Embedded java will continue to miss forecaster's prediction of acceptance
Expect a new blitz of products coming as you from all directions. Despite any and all product claims, flexibility and practicality will win out, as they always have. Solutions looking for a problem will disappear faster then fuzzy logic or embedded java. Products with clear documentation, easy to use development tools, and superior online support will quickly find their way into emerging markets. These will be driven by companies with people that understand the embedded market. Companies composed of people that have been writing Windows programs, with marketing done by their design department will delight and astound the press, but in the end, most Embedded Systems Developers will make the practical choices for the emerging markets.
In closing, Happy New Year to you all, and my personal Thanks to everyone that has supported my efforts to promote and maintain Microcontroller.com. All a webmaster wants is to know that their efforts are appreciated and that they are producing content for an appreciative audience. February 2000 will mark the Fourth Anniversary of Microcontroller.com - that's four years of changing web hosts and Gratuitous Capitalization. The site has gone from a 486 to a server that sports a dual Pentium III 500 with I forget how much RAM. To everyone who has emailed me suggestions and comments on this website, and to my friends in Michigan and Indianapolis that have supported my efforts and helped promote this site - an extra Happy New Year. In the words of Alan Borghard, may your emitters be grounded and your diodes forward.
Bill Giovino is Executive Editor of Microcontroller.com.