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NXP unveils 65-V LDMOS RF transistors for smart industrial applications

The RF transistors, with 65-V LDMOS, deliver more power density, a lower current level, and wider safety margins than previous RF power solutions
By Gina Roos, editor-in-chief
NXP Semiconductors N.V. expanded its RF power transistor product offering that features the 65-V laterally diffused metal oxide semiconductor (LDMOS) silicon technology. The company said that 65-V LDMOS “enables more integrated, highly reliable Industry 4.0 systems” with a high level of energy management thanks to higher power density, a lower current level, and wider safety margins provided by the new devices.
The MRFX series of 65-V LDMOS devices targets industrial, scientific, and medical (ISM) applications such as laser generation, plasma processing, magnetic-resonance imaging, skin treatment, and diathermy as well as radio and TV broadcast transmitters. NXP said that the devices are also well-suited for the growing segment of RF energy in which transistors replace vacuum tubes in industrial heating machines.
NXP unveiled 65-V LDMOS last year with the introduction of the MRFX1K80H device, capable of 1,800-W continuous wave (CW) in an air-cavity ceramic package. The company has added several new reference circuits for the MRFX1K80H at 27, 64, 81.36, 87.5–108, 128, 175, 174–230, and 230 megahertz (MHz)

The new parts include: 
MRFX1K80N: 1,800-W over-molded plastic package version of the MRFX1K80H device, enabling a 30% lower thermal resistance (0.06°C/W). All 27-, 64-, 81.36-, 87.5- to 108-, 128-, 175-, 174- to 230-, and 230-MHz reference circuits for the MRFX1K80H are available.
MRFX600H: 600-W solution in a small footprint, featuring a 12.5-Ω output impedance to fit a 4:1 output transformer. The MRFX600H transistor is released, supported by 87.5- to 108-MHz and 230-MHz reference circuits.
MRFX035H: 35-W driver of previous final-stage devices. It offers a 50-Ω output impedance for the most compact board layouts. The MRFX035H transistor is available now for 1.8- to 54-MHz, 30- to 512-MHz, and 230-MHz reference circuits.
All MRFX devices are part of NXP’s 15-year Product Longevity Program.

Prototype IoT products in one day without software development

Silicon Labs’ Wireless Xpress development solution provides everything a developer needs to prototype Bluetooth and Wi-Fi IoT products
By Gina Roos, editor-in-chief
Silicon Labs unveiled a new Wireless Xpress solution that claims that developers can get prototype IoT applications running in one day without software development. Designed to make Bluetooth 5 and Wi-Fi connectivity easy, the configuration-based development solution includes everything that developers need — Bluetooth 5 Low Energy (LE) and Wi-Fi modules, integrated protocol stacks, and easy-to-use tools — to move from product concept to prototyping. 
“By using Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Wireless Xpress, developers can move from product concept to prototyping in a matter of hours instead of weeks,” said Matt Johnson, senior vice president and general manager of IoT products at Silicon Labs, in a statement. “Wireless Xpress greatly reduces the design learning curve without compromising sophisticated Bluetooth or Wi-Fi functionality. Developers will spend less time learning how to add wireless connectivity to their IoT devices and more time designing innovative, distinctive products and getting them to market ahead of the competition.”
Key features of Bluetooth LE Xpress:
Bluetooth 5 BGX13 module requires no firmware development
Zero-overhead serial-to-Bluetooth cable replacement solution
Smartphone app for Bluetooth LE command, control, and sensing
Secure connections with encrypted communication, bonding, and passkey pairing
Applications include smart home products requiring Bluetooth control with a mobile app and adding a point-to-point wireless interface to industrial applications

Key features of Wi-Fi Xpress:
Streamlines cloud connectivity with low-power Wi-Fi modules and software
Supports cloud vendors including Amazon AWS and Microsoft Azure
Integrated web app enabling browser-based user interfaces
Applications include home appliances, wireless sensing, thermostats, IP cameras, and health monitoring requiring direct internet access and remote provisioning and updates
The Xpress devices only use “modest resources” from the host processor, which allows developers to add wireless connectivity to any microcontroller. The products based on the Bluetooth and Wi-Fi Xpress modules can be remotely managed and updated over the air using native device management. End users can install and update firmware, view real-time device health metrics, and adjust product settings through the mobile apps thanks to the Silicon Labs Zentri device management service (DMS). 
Wireless Xpress also includes a mobile app SDK for Android and iOS, providing examples and libraries. The framework also provides simple communications and OTA APIs to accelerate app development and to make wireless design easier for mobile platforms, said the company.
Available now, the Bluetooth LE BGX13P and BGX13S modules offer a choice of pre-certified PCB and SiP modules, respectively, with integrated antenna options. The Wi-Fi AMW007 and AMW037 PCB modules are also available now. Silicon Labs said that it plans to offer additional Gecko OS-based products and solutions in the future.
Module pricing starts at $4.09 in 10,000-unit quantities. Wireless Xpress evaluation kits are priced at $40 (MSRP).

The art of soldering from a design engineer’s perspective

Silicon Labs design engineer Asem Elshimi shares his first foray into the world of PCB soldering with some surprising insights
By Asem Elshimi, Design Engineer, RF-IoT, Silicon Labs
Disclaimer: This is not a technical introduction to soldering. Instead, I’m sharing my insights and personal experience with printed-circuit-board (PCB) soldering that have transformed my perception of the hours that I’ve spent in the lab as an IC designer.
I have been working in the semiconductor industry for the last seven years, yet I just finished my first soldering project last week. Why so long to get started? Because there was always someone in the lab who could solder for me. I also must admit that I was a late starter in soldering because I simply didn’t understand soldering basics. Outsourcing small tasks in the lab increases our efficiency and helps us focus on the big picture. But this is not true for soldering, in my opinion.
Long story short, as part of my training as a new hire at Silicon Labs, my project lead encouraged me to learn how to solder. Thus started, without exaggeration, a life-changing engineering experience. Soldering turns out to be an art. Or as the lab technician, who generously guided me through a starter project of soldering a tiny 0201 part to a reused PCB, told me the first time that I walked into his lab, “Soldering takes as much effort and passion as learning how to play the guitar.”
Fig. 1: An iron tip in contact with solder on one end of a capacitor in a 0402 package.

Fig. 2: My soldering mentor gave me the green light to use a microscope-equipped bench.
From there, I started my first soldering project. My soldering mentor gave me a practice PCB, an iron, tweezers (which need to be chosen depending on the size of the elements you plan to solder), solder wire, solder wick, and soldering flux — and, of course, some electrical elements to play with. Then he gave me the green light to use a bench equipped with a microscope.
Starting with zero experience, I spent the first half hour staring at the elements under the microscope. “So these are the matching elements that I have been simulating and measuring,” I said to myself. It was a moment of connection and a moment of reverse-alienation. The concepts, ideas, and theories that I had in mind about circuit elements were suddenly cast into a tiny spec of metallic packaging. An 0201 capacitor that is difficult to see even under the microscope is the material expression of our engineering knowledge and practices about capacitors. 
Fig. 3: 2.7-nH inductors in 0201 packages are difficult to see with the naked eye.
My first two trials of soldering elements to the board were disastrous. I covered the part with soldering that effectively doubled its size. It was not a pretty sight. The resistor was not lying flat on the board. One side had a larger soldering connection than the other, and there were many other aesthetic issues. 
Fortunately, in soldering (as in RF layout and pretty much every practice dealing with electromagnetic signal flow), beautiful work always wins. Symmetry and neatness can be easily backed by theoretical and experimental evidence that proves their necessity. For example, an asymmetric solder means that the PCB side with excessive soldering will modify the electrical properties of the part. We really need to avoid this mistake in the world of microelectronics.
Fig. 4: If you work with small electrical elements, invest in a pair of tweezers that makes your job easier.
It takes long hours of practice to reach a point of being able to confidently and neatly place a part on a board without damaging it. As you start the process, it is very helpful to keep your goal in mind. Pick your practice board. Put it under the microscope and examine the pad areas where you are planning to solder your part. 
Are they clean? If not, you have some work to do. Apply a droplet of flux on that pad. Afterward, you will need an iron in one hand and a stream of solder wick in the other. Place the stream on the not-very-clean pad and come closer with the iron tip. Every now and then, you should look from outside the microscope just to make sure that you are not driving the iron tip toward yourself or your arms. The tip is 800°F (I sometimes wonder how the tip itself does not melt).
Now place the iron tip softly on the solder wick and press it toward the board. Wait for that moment of victory when the soldering melts and moves toward the heat source. (This is why we applied the flux. Flux makes the solder move toward what’s hotter.) Then grab the wick, smoothly collecting the unwanted soldering. Is it clean? If not, repeat the process. And do not be shy to repeat this a couple of times. A good practice is to stick some soldering onto a random pad and clean it over and over just to get comfortable with the cleaning process. Now that the pad is clean, we need to get it ready for soldering the part to it. To do so, we will apply some soldering. Yes, after we have just removed all the soldering on the pad, we will apply fresh soldering. (I understand that there are different schools of thought here. I prefer to go with cleaning and applying fresh solder rather than reusing. I believe it’s tidier that way.)
Now, let’s get started and apply some flux to the pad. Hold the iron in your preferred hand and the solder wire in the other hand. Adjust your hands to be as close as possible to the pad you are working with. Look into the microscope. Bring the iron and solder wire very close to the pad.
In a split second, you will see the wire forming some soldering on the pad. Move your iron and solder wire away once this happens. This is not that easy. You will have to repeat this technique nearly a hundred times before you feel comfortable doing it — just as it might take you a hundred attempts to begin to master the fundamentals of a guitar chord.
Now, using your tweezers, grab the part that you want to solder. Hold the tweezers in a way that feels comfortable. You will soon be trying to push the part about 0.01 mm of distance. Bring the part very close to the pad where you just applied some fresh solder. Move the iron with your other hand and let the tip touch the solder on the pad. Once the solder has melted, quickly but firmly move the part far enough away that it contacts the solder that you applied. Yes, this requires a lot of practice to master as well.
Now, we still need to solder the other side of the part to the board. This is done by quickly heating one side of the part with the presence of solder wire. In a split second once again, if there was enough flux, the soldering will make contact between the part and the pad. Well done! Or more likely, let’s do that again and try to make it look/work better.
There is so much more to do with a PCB and a few parts. Attaching a new part to a pad is definitely the first step. But along the way, you may need to remove the part and attach another one. It also takes skill to remove that part without damaging it and attaching it again (yes, I have seen it work).

Partnered Content: Learn why signal chain expertise is mission-critical for the DOD

On a more complicated level, there is the soldering of an IC package. For example, my soldering mentor told me how an R&D project used the excess soldering to improve matching network characteristics.
The lesson that I’ve learned about soldering is that there is so much to learn. Every time you think that you have mastered a soldering technique, a new challenge arises. That is not something to worry about. We engineers enjoy being challenged.
Unlike most of the other engineering tasks that you might encounter in your job, the best approach to learning how to solder is by doing and not by reading books and articles about it. While these can be helpful resources to expand on some technical issues or gain insight from experts, the best way to learn soldering is to do it yourself!
It’s also helpful to ask others in person for their advice and insights. Tap the expertise of a technician in your company’s lab who can solder a few chips in an hour. They carry the art within their fingers. And after a few simple questions, they will divulge many helpful tips. They did not learn these tips through reading. They learned them by trial and error.
In closing, another smart engineer at my company advised, “You have got to own your own destiny.” In other words, when you take charge of more jobs and different phases of your project, your feeling of ownership grows. The project becomes your own creation.
To put it another way, as an electrical engineer, it will help you immensely to learn the art of soldering. This essential skill will not only make it faster for you to pinpoint an open solder the next time that you suspect one, it will also make your communication with the soldering specialist a lot easier. You now speak their language, and you understand their unworldly capabilities.
Asem Elshimi is an RFIC design engineer for IoT wireless solutions at Silicon Labs. He joined Silicon Labs in July 2018. Elshimi specializes in the areas of RF circuit design and electromagnetic structure design. He holds an M.S. in Electrical and Computer Engineering from the University of California, Davis.

When the going gets pro, the pro go Raspberry Pi

Raspberry Pi was meant to be a learning tool, but its power could not be ignored by professional designers. Modified for commercial use, it’s being used in more and more applications.

By Brian Santo, contributing writer
Last year, the Raspberry Pi Foundation delivered the third model of its professional-grade Raspberry Pi board. The Compute Module 3 (CM3) is a testament to the accelerating use of the commercial-grade version of the board in a broad cross-section of products that range from industrial automation and control to consumer electronics.
You might not have heard about this widespread adoption, however. The Raspberry Pi Foundation is restrictive about the use of the Raspberry Pi trademark in commercial marketing and promotion. Meanwhile, many companies consider their use of Pi to be competitive information and decline to talk about it. Consequently, professional applications of Raspberry Pi tend to remain unpublicized. However, there are certainly hundreds of examples, and maybe thousands, with more coming. The Raspberry Pi Foundation said that roughly one-third of the Pis that it sells go to commercial applications.
Raspberry Pi resellers are seeing increased demand as well. “In a given month, the Compute Module will be 5% to 10% of our Raspberry Pi sales,” said Peter Wenzel, global director of Raspberry Pi products at element 14, one of the leading purveyors of Raspberry Pi products. “It’s growing, and we can’t forecast its growth enough.”
Raspberry Pi was created for children to learn basic digital system design skills. The idea was to specify a basic board that would be simple but not so rudimentary as to be a toy. Raspberry Pi boards are designed to have more than adequate computation power to support a wide range of real-world applications as well as to be inexpensive and easy to use. It just so happens that those are some of the requirements for many commercial applications — so why not use it for commercial applications?
At first, it wasn’t possible due to a lack of popular communications options and on-board memory, an inability to operate across the full temperature range typically specified for commercial products, and minimal flexibility for modification.
All of that began to change with the introduction of the first Compute Module in 2014. It had some drawbacks for professional use, including the fact that the Broadcom chip ran a little too hot. But those drawbacks were addressed by the time CM3 was introduced in 2017. The Raspberry Pi 3 had become quite attractive for professional and/or commercial use.
“So, what actually gives the Raspberry Pi 3 a significant leg up over smaller microcontroller boards? The key is the Broadcom BCM2837 — a microprocessor that has some unique advantages,” according to Nick Powers, an application marketing manager at Arrow Electronics, who evaluated the product when it came out. “The actual core is an Arm Cortex-A53, which features heaps of cache and floating-point units that help to speed up data manipulation, especially in advanced mathematics and graphics.”
There are a couple of versions of the CM3. They both use Broadcom’s BCM2837 processor at up to 1.2 GHz and pack 1 GB of RAM. The standard version has 4 GB of on-board eMMC flash, while the Lite version is more stripped down, including bringing the SD card interface to the module pins so that users can connect to an eMMC or SD card of their choice, according to the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The versions are priced at $30 and $25, respectively.
Newark element14 (a subsidiary of Premier Farnell) sells the boards as specified by Raspberry Pi and also creates variations. Its most recent is the Raspberry Pi 3 Model B+, built on a new quad-core Broadcom BCM2837 64-bit processor running at 1.4 GHz and featuring wireless connectivity (IEEE 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.2) and better thermal management, among other changes. Model Bs are standard products, but the company will also build custom variations specified by customers. Wenzel said that Newark element14 has the only license to do that. Newark element14 recently began marketing a development kit as well.
The combination of technical merits and low price make the CM3 attractive, but sometimes it’s just the ease of use. Because it’s so easy to use, explained Wenzel, it’s often considered for projects that need to be completed quickly. One of the 10 largest banks in the U.S. chose Raspberry Pi for precisely that reason when it wanted to upgrade its ATMs to support a new feature. Wenzel declined to identify the bank in part because it ultimately decided against the upgrade for business and not for technical reasons.
Raspberry Pi was invented for kids, and even if there is a version aimed at professionals, it’s a bit of disservice to not describe the range of applications as fun bordering on bonkers.
The survey of commercial uses of Raspberry Pi that follows includes examples provided by the Raspberry Pi Foundation, Newark element14, Comfile Technology, and Kunbus.Partnered Content: Learn how Silicon Labs’ Blue Gecko Bluetooth Low Energy SoC Kit enables developers to quickly establish a Bluetooth connection
Sorting cucumbersA family farm in Japan is using a system based on Raspberry Pi to sort its thorny cucumbers, according to the Raspberry Pi Foundation. The sorter was created by the proprietors’ son, Makoto Koike, whose full-time job is as an embedded systems designer for a company in the Japanese automotive industry.
Wenzel told Electronic Products that the Compute Module requires some design experience to use it.
The cucumbers require sorting because the straightest, thickest, and thorniest cucumbers can be sold at a higher price. In fact, there are nine categories of relative desirability into which the cucumbers can be sorted. Koike’s system incorporates machine learning. He trained the system using 7,000 photos of cucumbers that he had taken and categorized. The system has an accuracy rate in excess of 95%, but during real-world use, it drops to about 70%.
Supercomputing clustersAutomating and accelerating the sorting of thorny cucumbers might be consequential for thorny cucumber growers, but when you get right down to it, they are cucumbers. You want a serious example? How about supercomputer development?
When it comes to supercomputers, Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL) is about as serious as you can get. The organization’s Trinity machines typically rank among the 10 fastest supercomputers in the world. The problem is that no one conducting supercomputer R&D (on parallel computing architectures, operating systems, applications, etc.) can afford a Top-10 petascale supercomputer, and running R&D tests on Trinity is a waste of resources. What was needed, then, was a testbed.
Bitscope received a call to build a testbed that would have a massive number of nodes (similar to Trinity) but still be inexpensive. BitScope built five Pi Cluster Modules, each with 150 four-core nodes of Raspberry Pi Arm processor boards. With a total of 750 CPUs (or 3,000 cores) working together, “the system gives developers exclusive time on an inexpensive but highly parallelized platform for test and validation of scalable systems software technologies,” according to LANL.
Keep in mind that a cheap supercomputer will put an eight-figure dent in your bank account. Bitscope said that it can build a 1,000-node cluster that can be used as a testbed for less than $150 per node.
The BitScope Pi Cluster Modules system is comprised of five rack-mounted BitScope Pi Cluster Modules consisting of 3,000 cores using Raspberry Pi Arm processor boards, fully integrated with network switching infrastructure. (Image: BitScope)
Underwater drone explorationOpenROV builds submersible drones for underwater exploration. They can explore for three hours, providing a high-definition (HD) feed for the duration. The top-of-the-line Trident model reaches a depth of 100 meters.
The Trident drone is based on a custom Raspberry Pi board created by Newark element14. As OpenROV company’s co-founder Eric Stackpole told Newark element14, “We needed to fit everything into a very small package, so we needed a version of the Raspberry Pi that didn’t have the headers, USB ports, Ethernet jack, and some other large components, so they worked with us to make a stripped-down version that’s very thin.”
Tridents aren’t for sale yet, but the company is taking orders. The basic drone, good down to 25 meters, is priced at $1,500, while the 100-meter model costs $2,050. The company sells a separate $400 Android-based controller.
Industrial controlThere are several companies building controllers and gateways based on the Raspberry Pi Compute Module. One example is Kunbus, a German company that built its Revolution Pi (aka RevPi) product line of controllers based on CMs.
The Kunbus Revolution Pi is an industrial PC based on the Raspberry Pi. The image shows the base module RevPi Core 3 dismantled into its components. In the middle is the Raspberry Pi Compute Module (Image: Kunbus)
If there’s any doubt that a Raspberry Pi-based product is industrial-grade, Revolution Pis conform to the IEC’s 61131-2 open international standard for programmable controllers.
One user of RevPi modules is Oxygen Technologies. When energy customers generate their own solar power and are connected to the grid, it creates some grid management challenges. Oxygen Technologies is trying to solve this problem.
Kunbus describes how Oxygen Technologies is running a system in which private and commercial electricity producers can trade their electricity among each other without any middlemen (Oxygen’s explanation is in German). The approach relies on everyone having a gateway that can relay consumption and production data at each node. Oxygen chose the gateway version of Kunbus’ RevPi.
Other usesThere are a host of uses for the CM3, ranging from web hosting to smart mirrors.
Web hosting — When you sign up with ISP Mythic Beasts, you get a dedicated Raspberry Pi server backed by network storage. Mythic Beasts drily notes: “This is a beta service and shouldn’t be used for nuclear power station command and control systems.” Best advice you’ll get today.
Home automation and control — FutureHome, based in Oslo, specializes in smart home technology that it sells to both individual homeowners and homebuilders in Norway. The FutureHome system is centered on a hub unit that Wenzel said is based on the Raspberry Pi CM.
Mirror computer displays — AirNodes is a French company that describes itself as a design operation that specializes in IoT applications. One of its most recent products is the Anna Smart Mirror for the hospitality and retail industries. This is another project based on Raspberry Pi, according to Wenzel.
Industrial control applications— Comfile Technology has created a panel PC based on the Raspberry Pi CM that includes a 24-bit color LCD with a touchscreen and a set of ports (USB, Ethernet, RS-232). A company spokesman was not able to identify any of the customers of its panel PC by name but did provide a list of the businesses that they are engaged in. These include:
Manufacturers of hydraulic presses
Sand molding
Manufacturing of HVAC systems
Prop and model making
Manufacturers of high-voltage contacts, capacitors, and relays
Manufacturers of high-precision scientific measurement equipment
Lobster fishing and processing
Automated vehicle and safety systems
Robotics and sound system manufacturers
Signal systems for light and freight railways
For more in-depth information on applying the Raspberry Pi in commercial applications, check out these other articles in this AspenCore Special Project:
Raspberry Pi Quietly Entering Professional Service — The Raspberry Pi’s combination of computer power and low cost has been attracting the interest of professional designers looking for quicker solutions to complex applications.
Beginner’s Guide to Sensor Interfacing — PIC, Arduino, and Raspberry Pi: If you can work with these three types of systems, then you can connect with just about anything.
Design solutions: Latest MEMS and Sensor signal conditioning architectures — Signal conditioning options include not only analog operational amplifier solutions but discrete transistor, data converter, microcontroller, and algorithm-based solutions as well.
Tip of the HAT to the RasPi — A Discussion on the Pi HAT Hardware Specification — The most versatile and powerful way of adding hardware functionality to the Raspberry Pi is to give it a HAT.

What’s next for Apple?

What is the next big thing from Apple? Everyone is predicting something “huge.”

AspenCore Media’s Special Project on Apple’s $1 trillion climb takes a look back at Apple’s business, its strategy to go vertical, and its supply chain.
By Bolaji Ojo, Editorial Director at ASPENCORE Media
Steve Jobs is gone, but Apple Inc. is still riding high. Sales of the consumer electronics company are set to reach a staggering $263 billion in fiscal 2018 — up 144% from $108 billion in 2011, the year that Jobs died. Apple’s $1 trillion-plus market capitalization has woven its story into the fabric of global business history. Pull any strands of the Apple saga, though, and they all lead back to its better-known founder.
What is Apple without Steve Jobs? The market wants to know. Apple, under current CEO Timothy Cook, has only partially answered the question. Apple, they’ve shown, can become even greater than its founding partners ever thought, and the company’s enormous profits indicate that the current executive team knows how to run a smooth engineering and supply chain marvel. However, the iPhone, iPad, Mac, iTunes, and “other services” fueling Apple’s massive sales and huge stock valuation all hark back to the Steve Jobs days.
So the market waits. Consumers, institutional investors, regular Anne and Joe stockholders, contractors, component suppliers, software developers, and everyone else in Apple’s huge universe are watching and waiting. We all want to know what non-Jobs inspired “new thing” Apple will create and make an instant success. Everyone wants to believe that the company has an incredible and unique innovative spirit.
It may be a long wait. Or it may happen tomorrow. Few people outside of Apple’s management know enough about the “secret projects” that the company is believed to be working on to authoritatively announce them. Apple engineers and senior software employees — we think — have bits and pieces of the information, but putting these together to form a complete picture is quite difficult. What everyone agrees on, though, is that “the next Big Thing from Apple will be huge.”
Why? Because investors and suppliers do not want an end to the Apple story. Everyone wants and expects the company to continue to grow at breakneck speed. And herein lies the greatest challenge that Apple faces, masked by its $1 trillion market capitalization achievement. Apple is at a crossroads today: It is growing, but the biggest sales spurts on a percentage basis are in services rather than the iPhone.
The iPhone remains a compelling purchase for many consumers, but there are ominous signs that the product is flagging. Annual shipment has been wobbly, zigzagging depending upon what buyers think of new iterations of the iPhone. In response, Apple is focusing on getting buyers to pay more for each unit, turning invariably into a sort of entrepreneurial magician.
The next big thingA cottage industry of experts, analysts, and enthusiasts has sprung up around the core question of what Apple will roll out in the future, each group vying to divine what that next “Big Thing” from the company would be. What, they ask, will Apple do for an encore?
It’s a fair question. But before hazarding a guess, let’s do the numbers. Analysts estimate that Apple’s revenue will top $263 billion in fiscal 2018, up about 15% from $229 billion in the prior year. To put these numbers into perspective, consider this: In fiscal 2008, Apple’s revenue was a mere $32 billion. iPhone sales of $1.84 billion accounted for less than 6% of Apple’s revenue that year. At the time, Apple was essentially a PC ($14 billion, or 44%, of sales) and iPod ($9.2 billion, or 28%) manufacturer.
In 2008, Apple was betting that its future success would be anchored in the iPhone. It was a well-placed wager. By 2017, the iPhone was contributing 62% of Apple’s revenue, while PCs represented 11% and iPads 8%. Services, Apple’s fastest-growing division, contributed $30 billion, or 13%, of sales. (More on this critical Apple business later.) What happened to the iPod, the contributor of nearly one-third of revenue from just nine years earlier? iPod sales were so minuscule in 2017 — for a company of Apple’s size — that they were folded into a group of “other products” that include Apple Watch, TV, Beats products, and third-party accessories.
The lesson from this for anyone trying to figure out Apple’s future product direction is quite simple: Look at the trending numbers. Whatever is going up represents future growth, and whatever isn’t will remain a stable but possibly not a major contributor to sales. Where does the iPhone sit in this classification? The numbers foretell what will happen to this device. Unit shipment is still rising, albeit with occasional dips, but the overall growth rate has crawled to single-digit levels. Perhaps fiscal 2018 will be different, but the trendline is clear: iPhone shipment growth rate will continue to decline.
Apple iPhone performance (Source: Company filings)
The iPhone will remain Apple’s top revenue generator for many more years, but it has today become a matured product. Apple will continue to invest a huge chunk of its product development capital in the iPhone, but this will not dramatically alter its profile. Competitors have largely caught up with the iPhone innovations that roiled the market in its first years, which means that price-sensitive buyers now have numerous compelling options. This is already showing up in the margin pressures that Apple is facing.
Obviously, based on the billions of dollars that it spends annually on R&D ($11.6 billion in fiscal 2017), Apple has something up its sleeve. The market will not settle for anything less than a “huge” market disruptor, however. The conventional wisdom about Apple goes thus: “Apple’s next Big Thing will be huge. It will eclipse the iPhone, disrupt the existing market, reshape the supply chain, create a new set of multimillionaires, and help dispel the notion that outstanding innovations died out with Jobs.”
Docking station?So, shall we join the prognosticators? Absolutely. Observers think that Apple can make quite a dent in several markets. They include autonomous driving and artificial intelligence. In other words, the iPhone must either transform into a trusted and critical aide in the evolving world or become obsolete. We believe that the iPhone can do better. Anyone who sees it as a messaging and “talk” product hasn’t quite seen the potential. The iPhone — and competing devices — can become the host for multiple docking stations spread across different markets — the Yin to their Yang.
How will this work? Take the autonomous vehicle or any other variants of AI. What all of these devices must have and need to offer, aside from the ability to be aware of and respond to the general environment, is user differentiation. They must intuitively be able to know and comply with the user’s personal preferences. In the future, this means that all AI products — automobiles, homes, robots, etc. — will eventually become docking stations. Each user virtually “drops” the control and data center into the docking station, which proceeds to download or read the personal preferences to customize the environment and overall user experience. Which currently ubiquitous product can do this? The smartphone, or in the case of Apple, the iPhone. That is one way to lengthen the iPhone’s reach and utility without stressing on the hardware.
The iPhone is already serving in this capacity, although at a rudimentary level. A review of Apple’s current product line reveals what’s missing in its arsenal. The company has or offers access to TV, music, computing, telephony, books, health services, storage, photography, time management (scheduling), and podcasts. In other words, Apple is already in most areas of human and enterprise activities. Interestingly, most of these services can be accessed or managed from a single device, the iPhone. Which makes the reference to the iPhone as a smartphone a misnomer. Most people do more than talk or send messages on their smartphones; banking, health checks, home management, travel booking, product ordering, and a bunch of other activities are now done from the handheld device and often on the go.
What connects all of these services is communication access, which Apple, though a major seller of mobile devices, does not offer. To increase its sales-generating capacity, Apple can develop an even tighter relationship with customers by offering wireless communication services or access. In this scenario, the iPhone buying experience becomes unified with what telecom service providers today offer: access. Each iPhone can be sold with a voice and data access package, relieving customers of the headache of acquiring access through service providers. What customers need is a phone and access bundle.
Will service providers kick? Of course, but their anger will soon be dispelled. Telecom providers are transforming themselves, but their biggest asset remains the pipeline. Apple can offer this globally by simply buying access to telecom pipelines, making service providers bandwidth wholesalers.
The future is servicesThis is where the “other services” segment of Apple’s income statement comes in. In fiscal 2017, “Services” represented Apple’s fastest-growing business unit, racking up sales of $30 billion, up 23% from $24.4 billion in the prior fiscal year. In the June 2018 quarter, services notched the second-highest year-over-year increase in the company’s portfolio. It grew 31%, exceeded only by “other products,” which rose 37%. iPhone sales jumped 20% during the same quarter, but unit shipments of the handset increased only 1%.
What’s in Apple “services”? The future, I dare say. Remember that Steve Jobs’ goal in starting Apple and upon his return was to make things “simple.” It’s a simple strategy: Take complex products and make them easier for people to use. Apple management now has an opportunity to extend that strategy beyond the hardware world. A long line of consumer and enterprise activities remains complicated, from production management to food ordering and health care. They don’t have to be.
Contrary to what some people may think, Apple isn’t oblivious to the desire of its customers and analysts for a new and distinct product. They know that the iPhone is a cash cow and will continue to milk it for a long time. Cook and his senior executives may know what they’d like to roll out next, but they cannot be even half as successful as the iPhone or even the iPad.
To better understand what is in Apple’s future, look at the company’s patent filings, acquisitions, and key executives. The executives who are key to Apple’s product roadmap include Johny Srouji, head of hardware technologies; Eddy Cue, in charge of internet software and services; Craig Federighi, senior VP of software engineering; Dan Riccio, senior VP of hardware engineering; and John Giannandrea, chief of machine learning and AI strategy. The future for Apple is clear: hardware, software, machine learning, and artificial intelligence.
The recipe is quite simple: Apple must secure current technology advantages, develop new ones, and create smash hits in the genre of the iPhone. It would be difficult for any enterprise, but Apple has done it before. Can it deliver again?
— Bolaji Ojo is Editorial Director at ASPENCORE Media. The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone, who promises to base his sometimes biased, possibly ignorant, occasionally irrelevant, but absolutely stimulating thoughts on the subjective interpretation of verifiable facts alone. Any comments should be sent to the author at [email protected]
Check out all the stories inside this Apple Special Project:
Apple’s $1 Trillion ClimbWhen Apple’s valuation reached $1 trillion earlier this month, EE Times decided to share our take on its technology, business, and supply chain — told in several distinctly different voices.
Apple’s Trillion-Dollar Fairy Tale, Warts and AllOn a cross-Atlantic flight in 2008, I happened to sit down next to Kirk Kirkpatrick, a tech executive who’d worked for Apple early in his career. I asked him then if Apple would be the first company to reach a $1 trillion market cap.
Where Will Apple Go From Here?Steve Jobs is gone, but Apple is still riding high. Sales of the consumer electronics company are set to reach a staggering $263 billion in fiscal 2018 — up 144% from $108 billion in 2011, the year that Jobs died.
Apple Goes Vertical & Why It MattersAs part of EE Times’ look at Apple’s march to becoming the first trillion-dollar company, I will look at their “modern” semiconductor work.
Apple’s Supply Chain Relationships: ‘It’s Complicated’Winning a socket in any Apple design bestows bragging rights. Yet the businesses that support Apple’s endeavors are oddly silent about their marquee customer.
The Truth About Apple’s Supply ChainThe good, the bad, and the unintended relationships that Apple has maintained with TSMC, Intel, Qualcomm, Imagination, Dialog, ams, and STMicroelectronics.

Heterogeneous integration is the future of the semiconductor industry

Heterogeneous integration encompasses rapidly evolving design concepts, packaging architectures, device types, materials, manufacturing processes, and systems integration technologies.

Editor’s Note: AspenCore Media’s editors have been closely following the development of the Heterogeneous Integration Roadmap (HIR). As part of this Special Project on the topic, we solicited perspectives from celebrated heterogeneous integration proponent Nicky Lu, Intel Fellow Ravi Mahajan, and veteran packaging analyst E. Jan Vardaman.
Dylan McGrath, EE Times’ editor-in-chief, begins the special report by discussing the HIR efforts by various players in the industry that are mapping out the future of the semiconductor industry beyond Moore’s Law.
Because the concept of heterogeneous integration encompasses rapidly evolving design concepts, packaging architectures, device types, materials, manufacturing processes, and systems integration technologies, the HIR effort involves participation from throughout the supply chain — chipmakers, materials suppliers, equipment companies, test/assembly providers, EDA firms, and others, said McGrath.
The HIR effort aims to identify the requirements for heterogeneous integration (HI) in the electronics industry through 2031, identifying challenges and potential solutions. A draft of the roadmap is now expected to be released in mid-October, followed by annual updates.
The report also includes several contributed pieces from luminaries of the industry on the topic of HI. Ravi Mahajan, an Intel Fellow, makes the case for heterogeneous integration. Nicky Lu, chairman, CEO, and founder of Etron Technology, discusses the benefits of HI and why the roadmap needs much broader and deeper participation from a more diversified group of technical, business, and application stakeholders. E. Jan Vardaman, founder and president of consulting company TechSearch International Inc., addresses the importance of the roadmap as a guide to determine the most appropriate package for a specific application.
Below is a listing of all stories in this Special Package:
Mapping the Future of ElectronicsDylan McGrath, editor-in-chief, EE TimesIncreasingly, engineers and chip firms are eyeing the concept of heterogeneous integration — separately manufactured silicon and non-silicon components integrated into a higher-level system in the same three-dimensional system-in-package — as the electronics productivity driver of the future.
The Case For Heterogenuous IntegrationRavi Mahajan, IntelHeterogeneous integration offers computing and communications devices enhanced functionality, faster time to market, and silicon yield resiliency.
Why I’m Involved With the HI RoadmapNicky Lu, Etron TechnologyAs Moore’s Law — which has driven exponential economic and industry growth — reaches its limits, the semiconductor, IC, and microelectronics industries need another exponential growth driver.
A Big Journey Calls for a MapE. Jan Vardaman, TechSearch InternationalHeterogeneous integration is an economic solution that addresses the end of silicon scaling, as historically documented by Gordon Moore.

MOSFET solution scales to any current range for hot-swap and e-fuse applications

MPS offers a scalable current sharing e-fuse solution that packs a built-in MOSFET, current and temperature sensing, soft-start ramp control, and protection features
By Jason Bone, staff technical marketing & apps engineer, Monolithic Power Systems (MPS)
In typical hot-swap or electronic fuse (e-fuse) applications, great care must be taken when selecting the MOSFET to ensure that the safe operating area (SOA) of the device is not exceeded during a soft-start (SS) turn-on. Even if multiple MOSFETs are paralleled, the soft-start condition causes large amounts of thermal stress.
Generally, when using discrete MOSFETs in hot-swap and e-fuse applications, it is assumed that only one MOSFET is conducting the entire soft-start current. This is due to the variation in the gate threshold voltage of each MOSFET. Therefore, all the power loss is in one device even though there may be multiple MOSFETs in parallel. This requires oversizing the MOSFET rating and package size, which drives up the PCB area. With typical hot-swap/e-fuse applications, a precision current sense resistor and a controller is needed to provide SS timing, temperature protection, and over-current protection (OCP).
The MPS MP5921 provides an innovative hot-swap/e-fuse application with a simple and stackable building block. The MP5921 has a built-in MOSFET, current sensing, temperature sensing, soft-start ramp control, and advanced protection features. The use of advanced monolithic processes allows for user-friendly implementation for hot-swap and e-fuse solutions (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1: Hot-swap/e-fuse application components.
The MP5921 uses an advanced monolithic process to monitor and drive the internal MOSFET actively during the soft-start process to ensure the SOA of the MOSFET. Using this monolithic process, the MP5921 can measure the current flowing through the internal MOSFET accurately.
With the ability to monitor the current through the internal MOSFET, multiple MP5921 devices connected in parallel actively balance the current flowing through each device during the soft-start condition. This ensures that each device carries the soft-start current equally and that no one device carries the full soft-start load current. With the soft-start current balanced among the devices in parallel equally, the risk of violating the SOA of the MOSFET is reduced greatly, and the thermal energy is more evenly distributed on the PCB.
Fig. 2 shows the current sharing of three MP5921 devices in parallel during a soft start with a DC load. All three devices in parallel share the soft-start load current evenly.
Fig. 2: Three MP5921 devices in parallel.
If the traces for the individual currents are set on the same origin point, it can be seen that they overlap exactly (Fig. 3).
Fig. 3: Currents with same origin point.
The MP5921 can be scaled to support any current range needed for hot-swap and e-fuse solutions. With a 60-A current rating in a 4 x 5-mm package, the MP5921 provides an extremely dense hot-swap/e-fuse solution. Each MP5921 has built-in protection features that monitor damaged MOSFETs, over-temperature conditions of the internal MOSFET, soft-start watchdog timer, and over-current protection.
The MP5921 also has a built-in short-circuit protection (SCP) feature that can disable the internal MOSFET within 200 ns of a short detection. This quick disabling function prevents a large buildup of current on the PCB where output shorts occur.
The MP5921 provides a robust and user-friendly solution for space-critical designs that can be scaled to meet the design requirements of all types of hot-swap/e-fuse applications.

KP Performance Antennas adds online radio compatibility search

Search tool easily identifies antennas compatible with your radio platform
By Gina Roos, editor-in-chief
KP Performance Antennas, a manufacturer of wireless network antennas, has launched its new online radio-to-antenna compatibility search feature on the company’s website. The filtering menu simplifies the selection of the KP antennas based on the customer’s radio platform being deployed in the field. Customers are offered a filter menu of antennas to choose from when they search for a radio.
This expanded “parametric” filtering option works with the site’s existing search filters to further narrow the user’s results. So now when customers search for an antenna, they can filter results to match the radio that they will be using. Search results will display compatible product choices once the filter is selected.

“It is common in wireless network buildouts and deployments for engineers, field technicians, and network operators to already know which access point and subscriber equipment radios they will be using,” said KP Performance Antennas. “But with so many antenna options available for a single radio type, it becomes difficult to know exactly which antennas are compatible. This new online tool allows users to quickly and easily identify exactly which of KP’s antennas work with their chosen radio.”

“This new radio compatibility filter, found on the left-hand side of the screen in the reductive filtering options, is a dynamic list of popular radio platforms that will continue to grow as new models and manufacturers enter the market, which is why we felt it was imperative to streamline the customer’s purchase journey,” said Shaun Gameroz, senior marketing manager, KP Performance Antennas, in a statement.
A PDF version of this radio-to-antenna compatibility tool is available here.

Superjunction power MOSFETs increase power supply efficiency

New Toshiba MOSFETs target server power supplies in data centers, PV power conditioners, uninterruptible power systems, and other industrial applications
By Gina Roos, editor-in-chief
Toshiba Electronic Devices & Storage Corporation has expanded its MOSFET family with a new series of 650-V power MOSFETs, aimed at server power supplies in data centers, solar (PV) power conditioners, uninterruptible power systems (UPS), and other industrial applications.
The 650-V TK040N65Z, the first device in the DTMOS VI series, supports continuous drain currents (ID) up to 57 A and 228 A when pulsed (IDP). A key feature is an ultra-low drain-source on-resistance RDS(ON) of 0.04 Ω (0.033 Ω typ.) which reduces losses in power applications. “The enhancement mode device is ideal for use in modern high-speed power supplies due to the reduced capacitance in the design,” said Toshiba.
Power supply efficiency is improved thanks to reductions in the key performance index/figure of merit (FoM) — RDS(ON) x Qgd — showing a 40% improvement in this metric over the previous DTMOS IV-H device. Toshiba said that this represents a significant gain in power supply efficiency in the region of 0.36%[1] — as measured in a 2.5-kW PFC circuit.
Available in an industry-standard TO-247 package, the TK040N65Z is in mass production. The device can be purchased online through Toshiba’s distribution network.
[1]As of June 2018, values measured by Toshiba (2.5-kW PFC circuit @ output power = 2.5 kW).

Exploring Taiwan’s tech innovations and role in the supply chain

Engineers in Taiwan excel in design and manufacturing, but China is catching up fast. What is Taiwan’s next move?
Editor’s Note: Welcome to AspenCore’s Special Project on Focus on Taiwan, Part 2. This special project provides an in-depth look at Taiwan, exploring the technology innovations and role in the supply chain.

Taiwan dominates the global supply chain from chips to systems. Engineers in Taiwan excel in design and manufacturing. Without Foxconn and Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., it’s hard to imagine how Apple’s iPhones would have so quickly reached so many consumers around the world.
A big question, though, is where Taiwan will go from here. With its big brother, China, fast improving its own manufacturing skills and design capabilities, what’s Taiwan’s next move? Against this backdrop, we explore in Part 2 key technology innovations such as “Heterogeneous Integration (HI).” Touted successor to a Moore’s Law regime whose economic ROI is dwindling, HI is passionately advocated by Nicky Lu, one of Taiwan’s technology heroes.
We also visited Gogoro, which is, as far as we can tell, the world’s first company to apply electric scooters to the utopian aim of rethinking how cities distribute, manage, and experience energy.
Related articles:
Where Would Apple Be Without Taiwan?
Taiwan Maintains EMS Dominance Amidst China’s Challenge
For the complete reports, please click here to download EE Times’ eBook entitled Focus on Taiwan Part 2 and Focus on Taiwan Part 1.