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Brainstorm: Significant Trends In Consumer Electronics

What do you see as the most significant trend(s) in consumer electronics in 2018?

By Colin Leath, Field Applications Engineer, AVX Corporation

Current consumer electronics trends, including reduced device size, higher-efficiency power sources, and evolving input/output (I/O) technologies are expected to take on even greater significance in 2018. The demand for reduced-sized devices will be addressed through the combination of multiple new technologies, such as smaller passive components, more powerful ICs, and efficient design tools, like 3D modeling and circuit layout software. Better design tools allow engineers to optimize layouts more quickly, accurately, and easily, while smaller passives and more powerful ICs allow for straightforward increases of computing power within small form factor devices.

The increasing demand for smaller, higher-efficiency power sources is also tied into the reduced-sizing trend. Battery technology will continue to improve with regard to both density and reliability, but other power options will also become a larger part of the equation in 2018. In addition to strictly battery-based solutions, consumer electronics engineers will capitalize on the growing trend of using passive components to supplement or even entirely replace batteries. Supercapacitors (particularly those in larger modules), can be used in place of batteries in applications where quick charging or discharging is paramount. Depending on a device’s energy requirements, supercapacitors and tantalum/polymer capacitors can also provide power in the ever-expanding dying-gasp/hold-up application space.

The I/O technologies developed for and designed into consumer electronics will continue to evolve with regard to both user/device and device/device interplay. User/device I/O technologies are already increasingly diverse, with fingerprint scanners now commonplace on higher-end smartphones and recent employment of both advanced facial-recognition technology and virtual reality functionality in those same devices. These I/O technologies enable vastly more complicated interactions between consumers, their devices, and rely on cutting-edge component technologies to deliver the performance required for customers to justify the purchase of these higher-priced, next-gen devices.

Device/device interconnectivity will continue to evolve. Although USB-C has streamlined physical cable connections, wireless connections will be more common going forward, as evidenced by major players in the smartphone market moving away from the physical connections of the past, like 3.5 mm headphone jacks and charging ports, toward Bluetooth-connected headphones and wireless charging.

By Paul Wiener, VP of Strategic Marketing, GaN Systems

Small, light, thin, mobile, and internet-connected all point to continued efforts to maximize power usage and efficiency. As a result, wireless charging will gain in importance to consumers and infrastructure. With the number of devices we have from smartwatches, fitness trackers, and other wearables to our laptops and smartphones, it has become cumbersome to carry multiple chargers or plug in several wires at the same time. While some of us might be familiar with wireless charging products, you’ll begin to see more powerful and sophisticated wireless charging systems in the 2018 market and beyond—those that enable spatial freedom and faster charging of multiple devices all at once. You’ll also start seeing these wireless charging spots in more places beyond the coffee shop such as your home coffee table, commuter train, office furniture, and car. Wireless charging in these areas is just the beginning of bigger things to come—like wireless charging an entire electric vehicle. New topologies combined with GaN power transistors will play a big role in creating these new capabilities.

By Wouter Joosen, head of DistriNet, an imec research group at KU Leuven

Blockchain is widely hailed as one of the next breakthrough technologies, one that may change the world of commerce within the next decade. It offers great opportunities to optimize transactions, processes, while eliminating losses caused by inefficiencies and fraud. However, blockchain (as it stands) is a method of working and incomplete toolbox, not a ready-to-use product that will simultaneously solve all issues. Before deciding on translating your business logic to blockchain, it is key to explore—and get a good grip on—the many options of the technology. First, begin by establishing ground rules for privacy, security, and examine possible legal implications.

The best-known implementation of blockchain technology is Bitcoin, the digital currency that isn’t issued or guaranteed by an authority. Bitcoin demonstrates the technology’s strengths and how it can be used. However, it also illustrates some issues that may not be the right fit for all. Bitcoin is a public ledger. Most use cases of companies are not public; many involve a limited number of parties that want to share data, which has important consequences for the way data access and security will have to be established.

Other issues to consider are privacy and traceability. Everyone who participates can look into the Bitcoin blockchain. Although privacy preserving practices can be encouraged, there is no real built-in privacy. This could be suitable for public ledgers, but if your application involves medical data, for example, you may need to add strict access controls and privacy measures.

Whether you are still exploring the many options, or if you are already developing a blockchain application, be aware the technology may not cover the level of privacy and security that your applications require.

By Jun Ye, CEO, Pilot Labs

More AI-powered devices and services are expected to launch in 2018. Consumers will start to adopt AI technologies. From payment, gaming, and entertainment to smart homes, big changes are coming.

Voice control at home will gain even more popularity, and is expected to grow significantly.

Four major platforms—Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, Cortana, and Siri—will continue to dominate this market. As technology progresses, the voice interaction will not only provide convenience and efficiency, but also redefine accurate searching technology. It will have great impact on how consumers obtain information and organize around daily life. Voice-centric devices will expand beyond speakers, to many other home appliances such as lighting, TV, IPCam, and even robots.

As a product design company, we also expect improvements regarding AMOLED’s production quality and cost. Flexible and transparent displays will become reality. This technology evolution will drastically change the way products are designed and will be a strong driver for innovation and creativity in consumer electronics.

By Bert Schmitz, Sr. Director, Strategy & Planning, Qorvo Mobile Products

After a decade of mostly incremental improvements, innovative new form factors and interaction methods will reignite excitement and fuel demand in the smartphone market.

Although manufacturers have steadily enhanced smartphone performance over the years—while introducing new features such as bigger screens, different aspect ratios, and biometric identification—the basic touchscreen design has remained essentially unchanged.

Disruptive new technologies on the horizon promise to bring change. After years of development and research prototypes, foldable phones using flexible screens are finally nearing launch. Multiple display manufacturers are working to bring the technology to market, with the first models using a single folding panel promised in 2018. This may mark the first major change in form factor since the smartphone was first introduced, effectively doubling available screen real estate and changing our perception of mobile devices.

Meanwhile, new input methods could eliminate or reduce the need for touchscreens. These include speech recognition, which is improving rapidly and being used to power a much wider range of devices. Also under development is finer-resolution gesture recognition technology that uses low-power radar to detect sub-millimeter movements of the human hand. This lets users interact with their devices without touching the screen, using small finger movements to control the phone and apps.

Such technologies could put an end to the frustrations of trying to operate touchscreen-based devices with dirty hands or whilst wearing gloves. There are also broader implications. By decoupling the input and output methods—eliminating the need for a touchscreen that does both—new technologies will free device engineers and designers to explore new form factors in smartphones, wearables, and other devices. These technologies could pave the way for innovative products, from startups or established players, which are compelling enough to spur consumers to upgrade their smartphones or buy new categories of devices.

By Cees Links, General Manager, Qorvo Wireless Connectivity Business Unit

It is fair to say that 2017 was the breakthrough year for voice as a user interface. However, what voice interpretation still lacks is the ability to recognize and respond to a user’s mood throughout the day. In 2018, we will see the first applications where voice-enabled assistants will understand mood from tone of voice and speed of conversation: is the user stressed or relaxed; happy or depressed; fit or tired, etc. The voice assistant will react not only on what the user is asking for, but also consider their personal state of mind. For example, “How is the weather?” When the user is stressed: “Good, but cold!” When happy: “The weather is great, a little brisk today!” When depressed: “Not great, but tomorrow may be better!” Or when the user asks for a restaurant recommendation, the voice assistant will immediately understand whether they are in a hurry for a quick bite, or relaxed and have time for a longer dinner. This way, voice assistants will really have an edge over a simple Google search—it is hard to understand someone’s mood from typing, but with voice, this will all change. Emotional interpretation will make voice assistants truly superior to everything we have used before.

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