Intensifying competition compels microcontroller manufacturers to differentiate their products by promoting factors beyond performance benefits. The microcontroller market’s increasing tilt toward standard cores such as the ARM and 8051 further propels efforts towards differentiation. New analysis from Frost & Sullivan, World Microcontrollers Market, finds that the market earned revenues of $14.64 billion in 2007 and estimates this to reach $19.08 billion in 2011.
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“As competition increases in the microcontroller market, manufacturers are expected to reach high performance pinnacles, while achieving shorter development times, improved functionality, and reduced costs,” says Frost & Sullivan Research Analyst Jayalakshmi Janakiraman. “Integrated peripherals, on-chip memories, and power performance are some of the key factors that influence the choice of microcontrollers at present.”
The 32-bit cores from ARM feature a variety of on-chip peripherals, especially for communications, such as universal serial bus (USB), controller area network (CAN), as well as I2C interfaces and service provider interface (SPI). A surge has taken place in the number of microcontrollers that integrate flash memory because of its clear advantage centered on programmability.
Attempts to differentiate have included 32-bit cores from ARM that feature a variety of on-chip peripherals such as universal serial bus (USB), controller area network (CAN), as well as I2C interfaces and service provider interface (SPI). In addition, there is a surge in the number of microcontrollers integrating flash memory, as they have many programming advantages.
Low-power microcontrollers are in demand because of an increasing focus on energy efficiency. The profusion of battery-powered applications further drives the sales of low-power microcontrollers. Low power is no longer associated with low performance due to the current availability of powerful processors in this segment.
While 8-bit microcontrollers are popular among emerging applications as well as electromechanical replacements, 16-bit microcontroller units (MCUs) that balance cost and performance are the processors of choice for many hand-held and portable devices.
At the same time, 32-bit microcontrollers gain traction among new applications that require a higher level of performance in various markets. With declining prices, this product segment will likely eat into the shares of lower-end MCUs.
Affordable prices are also the reason the Asian region is witnessing a migration to 16-bit architectures. Its rapidly evolving electronics market makes Asia one of the fastest growing markets for MCU manufacturers.
However, MCU manufacturers must offer more than just a wide array of products to lure users away from their current manufacturer or architecture. Users are reluctant to shift due to unfamiliarity with new architectures and because switching architectures incur cost and time. The complications of porting the existing software to the new architecture and the need for designers to make an initial investment in software and tools are added constraints.
“However, the introduction of ready-to-use hardware and software development tools at competitive prices can provide seamless migration to higher-performance architectures,” notes Janakiraman. “Chipmakers and third-party vendors need to continue working toward simplifying tool sets and reducing the costs associated with basic evaluation boards.”
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