Silicon to product – New trends in consumer electronics product design and productization

Product design and development has come a long way from traditional product development. Earlier, development involved a semi-conductor company building a reference design around a brought out silicon/processor and promoting it in the targeted market segment.  Some examples include semiconductor companies like Texas Instruments building a reference design around the OMAP™ processor for a variety of cell phones and Analog Devices building a reference design for the automotive infotainment sector.

The Traditional Method

These reference designs or evaluation platforms would have certain eco-systems in place for SoC, power management, memory and other key components. The software provided by the silicon vendor would ensure basic functionality of the reference design. Based on these reference designs, OEMs would build a form factor prototype catering to their specific product vision. The OEM would then invest heavily on both Hardware and Software engineering resources to customize the hardware to fit the form factor of the product they envisioned. They would then negotiate with vendors and tweak certain components to bring out the final product to market.

Current Scenario

Today, we have seen a radical change in the process of designing. Most fabless semi-conductor companies and ODMs operate in the heavily commoditized consumer electronics market space. Except for some big companies like Apple and Samsung, most OEMs are involved in only defining the specifications and functionality of products.

The new age fabless semiconductor companies that dominate the consumer electronics or lifestyle electronics market today do not just stop at creating a reference design, but are also involved in the Consumer electronics product design which are nearly 80-90% completed. Not only do they define the components that go into the product, they also bring together the entire eco-system of component makers required to complete the product. They negotiate and control the entire BOM of the product. Working with ODMs, they provide a product that can move into production at an accelerated time frame thereby removing the need for OEMs to have a large engineering team.  So what does the OEM do? They define the product, differentiate it based on applications, UI, UX, industrial design, software features and spruce up the look and feel of the product as the core of the system is technically taken care of by the silicon vendor/ODM.

Role of ODMs in this transformation:

  • An ODM today is not just a design house, but is a “brain house” with the ability to envisage the entire product and bridge gaps between silicon vendors and OEMs. ODMs today need to have the ability to provide a ready-to-deploy design and work with an EMS (Electronic Manufacturing Services) to provide a boxed product to the OEM.
  • An ODM needs to continuously innovate and come up with product designs which can be converted to an end product with minimal time and effort thereby significantly shortening the design cycle, helping the OEM to introduce products to market at an accelerated rate.
  • The base designs should have the flexibility to scale to different variants of the products while retaining the core functionality without compromising on the key features and still meet accelerated time-to-market schedules and quality.

This change in trend has brought about a revolution in the Consumer electronics product design space where major brands especially in the emerging markets concentrate on brand building, distribution and marketing while leveraging the engineering strength of the silicon vendor and ODM. Their focus on in-house engineering is reduced drastically. This has resulted in significant cost savings which has been passed onto the customers in terms of a wide range of economical consumer electronic devices like phones,tablets and life style products which compete with brands like Apple and Samsung.

 

*Published in EE Times India

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