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Tech Talk

Mobile devices drive innovation

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One thing that you can count on in the mobile device sector is change. If you’re not delivering new innovations in your next-generation designs for smartphones, tablets, and wearables, which are occurring at a faster pace, then you might as well pack it up because most consumers are looking for the next big thing — augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), artificial intelligence (AI), foldable displays, smart biometrics, and the list can go on and on.

A lot of this innovation centers on smaller form factors, display technologies, new types of sensors, and improved camera modules to create better user experiences. For OEM designers, it’s all about adding new features and functionality, increasing performance (especially in the area of battery life), and, if possible, lowering system costs.

One of the biggest trends in mobile devices is sensing and monitoring applications. Sensors continue to play a big role in this market, and it will only continue to grow as developers come up with new applications beyond location tracking and activity monitoring. To handle all of the data coming from these sensors, including accelerometers and gyroscopes, you’ll see more phone designs incorporate sensor fusion as a connectivity hub.

“Sensors are nearly everywhere, and that makes sensor fusion a crucial component in the mobile design recipe,” said contributing writer Majeed Ahmad. “Therefore, sensor-fusion technology will continue to evolve as newer applications land on smartphone, wearable, and other mobile platforms.”

Ahmad tells us that sensor fusion can help in tracking the exact location of the device by collating data from the accelerometer, gyroscope, and other sensors such as a barometric pressure sensor that can enhance the smartphone functionality with weather forecasting, altitude sensing, and other location-centric features. We’re likely to see sensor fusion become a key technology differentiator in all kinds of wearable devices, offering different sensor combinations for new user experiences.

There is a lot of work happening in sensor-fusion algorithms to help deliver greater precision and accuracy as well as improved power consumption for different wearables such as active sports, clinical trials, and AR and VR devices. Algorithms will also play a key role in more sophisticated data analysis.

Clearly, sensors are a big part of enabling a mobile device’s functionality, but power management is also critical in ensuring that these new features can be implemented as consumers want to watch high-definition videos, play more games, and stream music. New functionality is an increasingly challenging performance requirement, which calls forbetter power management techniques to deal with higher heat-dissipation targets while meeting long battery life requirements.

To meet these design goals, the design of the power management subsystem starts with the battery, said contributing writer Maurizio Di Paolo Emilio. Factors such as recharge cycles, aging, and temperature can degrade the performance of the lithium-ion battery over time, he said. Thus, proper management and control of a rechargeable battery are essential to optimize battery life.

This means that designers need to consider the battery, power management and control techniques, and selection of the power management IC to deliver longer battery life and improved performance in mobile device designs.

At the same time, designers are trying to overcome the complexities and challenges of wireless charging systems. The goal is to have wireless chargers charge as fast as wired chargers while handling thermal management challenges to eliminate noise and vibrations.

A lot of what facilitates these improvements are the components themselves. Take, for example, audio ICs. For designers, audio IC selection requires effectively juggling performance, real estate, battery life, cost, and time to market, said contributing writer Carolyn Mathas.

A new generation of high-performance audio ICs are solving the challenges of implementing audio functionality and sound quality into next-generation mobile devices that must process signals at higher frequencies at ever-lower power and with minimum losses.

Mathas said that more powerful and flexible audio ICs are launching at breakneck speed that are delivering substantially improved audio quality and greater performance that can be used in smaller spaces while meeting power demands.

Mobile devices aren’t going to get any smaller, deliver longer battery life, or add new functionality without component innovation. New types of sensors, power management ICs, audio chips, and timing devices are what’s needed to bring new functionality to smartphones, tablets, wearables, and other portable devices.

Reference: Electronic Products
By Gina Roos, editor-in-chief