ESC Silicon Valley 2009: The Fashion Parade

The Embedded Systems Conference in California is undoubtedly the #1 event in the embedded software world each year. I am fortunate enough to be able to attend most years and it is very interesting to see what’s new and look out for trends.

My first impression this year was of peace and calm. The show itself felt quiet. I have not yet seen the official visitor figures, but I am sure they’re down on 2008. This is unsurprising perhaps, given the current economic climate. But there is another aspect to the “quiet”. I monitor press activity – press releases, articles etc. – in the embedded space. In a normal week there are perhaps a dozen stories of interest, but in the week before ESC and during the show itself things go berserk. But not this year. There were more stories, but not the step function I have come to expect. Does this mean that companies are not doing new stuff? I think not. Perhaps they are just promoting it in other ways. More likely, everyone has realised that releasing a story around ESC just risks it being buried in the noise and some other time would gain it greater visibility.

Having worked in embedded software for many years, I have noticed that the industry is very prone to “fashions”. I am not thinking about the mode of dress of the average embedded engineer – that is probably best not discussed. The fashions that I have in mind are technologies and methodologies that appear from time to time, which are regarded by many as The Next Big Thing. In most cases, they are talked about extensively for a year or eighteen months, then things calm down and the fashion item finds its niche. Examples over the years that come to mind include: C++, Windows CE, Java, Eclipse and UML. None of these have gone away – each has its place. I believe that the fashion that is now in the ascendant is design for low power consumption. This is driven by the increase in popularity of handheld devices, where battery life is critical, and by environmental concerns.

Two things are unusual about this fashion. First, it is a matter of concern to both software and hardware developers, who need to work closely together to achieve the design goals. Second, no single company or group is pushing the technology – it is a response to other trends in the wider world. I am wondering whether this might be the fashion that really is going to dominate our thoughts for some years to come.

Mentor Graphics booth at ESC SV 2009
Mentor Graphics booth at ESC SV 2009


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