Inside IT
Intelligent Semiconductor, Key to Wearable Devices

We’ve noticed that wearable devices are getting a lot of attention these days on the web and TV and the sales of related products are also increasing. Now that commercialized wearable products are readily available, you can actually see people using them in public. The imagination for wearable devices, however, is not that new to us. For example, the 1989 film “Back to the Future 2” even had wearable devices in it. Marty Mcfly (Michael J. Fox) wears a voice activated smart suit that dries itself and smart shoes with laces that automatically tighten. I was only a middle school student when the movie came out, but I still remember being very surprised to see such a suit and shoes. I look back now and see how commercialized wearable devices were already being envisioned even back then.

I wonder how wearable devices’ status has changed 25 years after they were dreamt up in a movie, but before that, let’s take a look at what’s needed for wearable devices to succeed in today’s market.

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G Watch by LG and Google with Android Wear (platform for wearable devices)

Wearable Devices, the Next Generation Terminal after Smart phones

Wearable devices can be divided into five categories (watches, glasses, accessories, shirts, and shoes). These products will be utilized, as substitutes for smart phones, for enjoying virtual reality, writing journals, in health management, sports, and work related assistance. Many IT experts consider wearable devices the next terminals that will follow smart phones and tablet PCs. This is because unlike the market for smart phones and tablet PCs, which has been stagnant since the late 2000s, wearable devices have only gone through the introduction stage in their life cycle. Although the market for wearable devices is still not very big, it’s seen as a new growth power industry with a tremendous potential for growth.

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Google Glass, which first introduced wearable devices to consumers.

2013 is the year that many wearable devices were launched and can be called the first year for wearable devices. It was also a year when companies experienced the barriers for popularization due to various limitations (designs that received mixed reactions, small battery capability, separate interlock, compatibility problems, etc.). However, Google Glass, Galaxy Gear by Samsung, and Smart Watch by Sony were all released into the market and completed the basic lineup. Consumers now have more options based on these and no one can deny that wearable device is one of the hottest keywords in 2014 IT and mobile trends.

Semiconductor, the key to wearable devices

コンピューターと車

Another new growth power industry along with wearable device is the smart auto industry. We could see its changing status at CES (Consumer Electronics Show) which is the world’s biggest fair and at MWC (Mobile World Congress). What’s in common between wearable devices and the smart auto industry is that they use ICT (Information & Communication Technology) of which the development of semiconductors is at the center.

The reason why semiconductors are crucial for wearable devices and the smart auto industry is because the semiconductor is evolving from memory-based to a SoC (System on Chip) based intelligent product with its own software equipped. SoC was constructed on multiple chips in the past but now the concept turned in to ‘a system on a chip’ and various multimedia components (graphic, audio, video, modem, etc.), microprocessor, and D ram are being integrated into one chip. This makes the miniaturization and very high scale integration very important in wearable devices. I hope you understand why semiconductors are the core technology in wearable devices.

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Because the market for wearable devices hasn’t grown much yet, many of you may think that it’s too soon to call it a new growth power industry. However the evidence that shows the potential for them is all around us. For example, wearable devices, semiconductors, and intelligent semiconductors with smart software are included in the ‘9 strategic industries’ for 40,000 dollar GNP by the Ministry of Science, ICT, and Future Planning. Many major corporations are also actively working to preoccupy the market. Google launched Android Wear, an OS for wearable devices and Apple is planning to launch iWatch (a provisional name) in the latter half of this year.

Also, Android Wear is breaking the old way of manufacturers’ function customization. Android Wear can run on voice recognition and a motion sensor instead of by touch. It also figures out where the user is and deducts one’s action to provide needed information in the form of UI.

Although the smart phone market, which used to be growing fast, is now stagnant, smart phones with wearable devices will changes the markets for both by making wearable devices a daily part of our lives. In order to make this possible, they should be provided with the intelligent semiconductor technology that detects and figures out what work should be done by it. As wearable devices are a type of internet of things, utilizing sensors and communication to collect data, share it with other devices, and interact with them will bring revolutionary changes to our lives.

Judging by the pace of development, anticipating that intelligent semiconductors with very large scale integration will lead the IT field in the future does sound pretty plausible.

Written by Dong-Kyu Lee

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