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Key technology trends that defined 2013

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The electronics industry moved forward in 2013, with growth as high as 10 percent expected over 2012

TEXAS, USA: The electronics industry moved forward in 2013, with growth as high as 10 percent expected over 2012. It saw some continuing trends such as the expansion of ARM cores, as well as some unexpected innovations along with some new concepts that are now part of our collective vocabulary.

The proliferation of ARM processor cores across the globe has been remarkable. At the low end, nearly every microcontroller (MCU) manufacturer has added a new ARM CortexTM-M0+ or the higher-end ARM Cortex-M4 device to its lineup, effectively crowding out proprietary MCU architectures and pulling what might previously have been 8- and 16-bit applications to the 32-bit level.

Freescale, which only recently embraced ARM fully in its MCU product line currently boasts over 500 varieties, although with packaging, memory, and temperature options on baseline configurations, such totals can spin up quickly. At the high end, ARM introduced a 64-bit version of the architecture in 2013. Products designed around the new Cortex-A53 and Cortex-A57 cores are in the making.

Co-incidentally, Intel has now gotten into ARM's back yard. To better address battery-powered systems, Intel re-architected the x86 family years ago into a more power-aware, lower-performance configuration called Atom

Clearly, wireless devices such as smart phones, tablets, and wearables (smart watches) are significant new platforms that can be a key component of disparate consumer, commercial, and medical systems. Intel is making sure the Intel Architecture is a player in these high-volume markets with Atom and the new smaller-yet Quark processors and SoCs.

Open source hardware continued to build momentum in 2013. Arduino and Raspberry Pi were joined by the Beaglebone Black in April. The BBB offers a Texas Instruments 1GHz ARM Cortex-A9 processor along with 65 GPIO and video interfaces, effectively bridging the gap between media and control applications. A new player emerged at the end of the year as Intel released the Galileo platform: An Arduino compatible board based on their new Pentium class Quark processor.

Terms like "Internet of Things" and "Industry 4.0" burst into the mainstream vocabulary this year, encouraging the use of the word "smart". Smart, of course, is a relative term. Generally, smart in electronics has come to mean highly autonomous, able to do a lot on its own without human intervention.

However, the industry uses "smart" lately to refer to highly-connected intelligent systems that make the use of all available information, some local, some gathered from nearby systems, and maybe from far away. Essentially anything attached to the Internet would be deemed smart.

The smart phone has become a key platform for expanding the use of all kinds of products. The phone may remotely control or accumulate data from the product, resources in the phone may perform special processing on the data, and cloud services may be accessed through the cellular network. The phone has become the always-with-me device that the laptop never really was.

Smart phones and tablets have also introduced new kinds of user interfaces (UI). The touch screen is now a staple, giving us the variety of a PC screen, unencumbered by the mouse. Support for touch user interfaces can come quite easily.

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