In April 2010, I wrote a short piece entitled "Designing for the iPad Era," which I have reprinted on the second page of this post. It was inspired by the appearance of the first iPad. I speculated then on the impact a migration from desktop PCs to tablets and smartphones would have on electronic design, presenting new challenges to produce highly portable devices with tightly managed power budgets supporting increasingly diverse functions.
It's fun -- for me, at least -- to look back on that article as I write this one in response to news of the first decline in annual PC shipments since the dot-com bust. At least the news from today’s consumer market confirms the continuation of the trend I observed a couple of years ago.
I wrote back then that the era of the PC, when processor speed and memory density were the key performance measures driving the industry, had come and gone. As cellphones penetrated deeper into the consumer market, low-power and mixed-signal design were becoming more important. Delivering PC-like functions in a much smaller form factor put more emphasis on packaging solutions.
Not surprisingly, these topics were already part of the DesignCon technical program two years ago. With products already in the marketplace, engineers had workable first-generation solutions to discuss and lessons to share. Since then, we have seen growing interest in the tracks related to these topics.
We see this trend continuing with the DesignCon 2013 program. Bearing in mind that we allocate the number of sessions to each track in proportion to the number of submissions we receive, changes in the session count are a fair indicator of shifts in interest within the DesignCon community.
One of the most striking changes since last year is the doubling of sessions in Track 2, "Analog, Mixed-Signal, and RF Design and Verification." In my last blog, I pointed out the addition of "RF" to the track title to emphasize the integration of RF communication capabilities as a major driver for mixed-signal designs. A look at the titles of papers selected for this track suggests highlighting RF contributed to the doubling in sessions.
Track 4, "System Co-Design: Chip/Package/Board," has also seen significant growth -- the number of sessions has increased 60 percent from last year. This track addresses packaging issues and signaling across package boundaries. Track 11, "Power Integrity and Power Distribution Network Design," is a magnet for those interested in power issues. It continues to grow and thrive as one of the largest tracks in the program.
As trends go, the progression to smaller and more portable personal electronic devices is easy to spot. It may not take great insight to project the impact of this trend on the practice of electronic design, either. Still, it's gratifying to see DesignCon tracking it so well, validating the efforts of the organizers to keep the technical program timely and relevant.