Over the past two years, it has become increasingly evident that the boundaries separating human capabilities from machine functions are constantly evolving. This shift presents exciting and extraordinary opportunities for the tech industry.
Artificial intelligence technology, in particular, has reached a pivotal turning point. AI has reshaped our understanding of heterogeneous computing and influenced the design of system architectures across an expansive spectrum, from edge devices with limited resources to extensive cloud servers.
Given this backdrop, there is a clear recognition of the imperative for hardware to adapt and evolve flexibly, a crucial aspect even as the practical applicability of AI to various workloads fluctuates between futureproofing and differentiation. This interplay of trends is notably most apparent and challenging in the diverse landscape of the internet of things (IoT).
In navigating the landscape of any IoT system, the inherent and daunting challenges within the three crucial functions — sensing, processing, and connectivity — are significant.
Considerable issues such as fragmentation stemming from multi-vendor sourcing, the delineation between custom and general-purpose compute silicon, software interoperability concerns, and varying investment strategies have resulted in uneven growth patterns across end markets.
However, despite these trials, the overall outlook for the market remains notably promising. According to Gartner Research, the semiconductor potential for IoT endpoints is anticipated to reflect a robust 11.8% at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR), reaching an impressive $269.7 billion in revenue by 2027. For most semiconductor companies, market potential like this is too irresistible to ignore.
However, the evolving demands of markets in the era of AI disruption must be recognized. The growing need for implementation guidelines, best practices, and solution blueprints indicates a proactive move toward establishing a future-ready platform for the IoT category.
Synaptics Arrives on the Scene With Astra
As a recognized authority in intelligent sensing, display, video, vision, voice, and audio technologies, Synaptics boasts top-notch wireless connectivity and validated AI proficiency. This approach positions the company effectively to provide the framework for the upcoming era of IoT computing.
Synaptics is no stranger to tackling the technological challenges in these categories, given its success in multiple product segments, dating back to the PC touchpad and smartphone markets and, most recently, in the automotive, wireless connectivity, and docking station markets.
However, Synaptics is not the same company today that it was in 2010. An illustrative example is my recent podcast with Synaptics Senior VP of Automotive/VR and Chief Strategy Officer Satish Ganesan, where he explores the company’s impressive solution portfolio in the automotive space, a market in which the company was virtually absent back in 2010.
Earlier this month, Synaptics unveiled Astra, an AI-native compute platform designed for the IoT market, addressing both consumer and industrial applications. The following foundational pillars highlight the features of the Synaptics Astra platform:
Portfolio of High-Performance, Power-Efficient AI-Enabled SoCs: Synaptics’ multi-modal AI-enabled MPUs and a range of high-performance AI and connectivity MCUs offer scalable compute solutions across various markets such as home automation, smart appliances, process control, wearables, security, digital signage, streaming, and enterprise conferencing.
Adaptive AI Framework: As ambient and conversational AI become integral to IoT and edge-compute design, the focus has shifted towards identifying providers capable of delivering best-in-class, user-friendly implementations. Synaptics’ open, cross-platform tooling, modeling, and optimization infrastructure assists customers and developers in transitioning from “making AI work” to “working with AI.”
Whether dealing with raw data from the factory floor, object detection models for home security, or audio enhancements like noise suppression, echo cancellation, or voice biometrics, the Synaptics AI framework has the potential to offer effective integration paths for production systems.
Unified Software Experience: Synaptics’ comprehensive Board Support Package, compatible with Linux, Android, and leading real-time operating systems (RTOS), ensures an open and consistent cross-portfolio experience.
Built on standards-based approaches to firmware-OS interfaces, security, and workload acceleration, the package supports market-specific application profiles. Users can rely on familiar development environments, facilitating optimized evaluation and decision-making cycles.
Wireless Connectivity Pairing: Synaptics Astra provides appropriately sized wireless connectivity and compute pairings through highly integrated solutions for the IoT.
Supporting Wi-Fi, Bluetooth BLE, 802.15.4, and GPS/GNSS (Global Positioning System/Global Navigation Satellite System), these functionalities are enabled through standards-based Linux and RTOS software frameworks and protocols such as the Matter smart home inoperability initiative.
Broad Partner Solution Ecosystem: Customers can leverage Synaptics’ multi-generational experience to build market-ready systems and solution stacks in collaboration with industry-leading partner companies, including ODMs, ISVs, service providers, and system integrators, a legacy Synaptics strength.
From single-board computers for enterprise and consumer markets, streamers, tablets, displays, and interactive A/V conferencing systems for education and commerce to compute-enabled connectivity modules, Synaptics SoCs enable a diverse array of IoT platforms.
Implications of the Shift to Custom Silicon Solutions
In many ways, Synaptics is simply following an industry trend that has been in motion for the past several years. The notion of creating custom silicon in a Burger King “Have It Your Way” manner for a specific vendor was simply unthinkable just a few years ago because of legacy poor economics, and, more importantly, silicon design expertise was only available in a small handful of companies.
Regardless, companies like Apple with its own processor solutions, AMD, and others have turned that business model on its head.
Stated differently, the “fabless” business model approach has enabled these and other companies to be nimble, have time to market, be highly competitive from a feature and performance standpoint, and scale with their unique, custom offerings.
Synaptics also has recognized that the tech industry’s embrace of custom silicon solutions has heralded a transformative era with profound implications.
As companies increasingly design and manufacture their own specialized chips tailored to specific tasks, it accelerates innovation, boosts performance, and enhances energy efficiency. This shift marks a departure from the one-size-fits-all approach of conventional hardware, enabling tailored solutions for diverse applications, from artificial intelligence to edge computing.
Here’s a brief interview with Synaptics Senior Director of Strategy and Business Development, Nebu Philips, who offers his perspective on the company’s goals with Astra:
Custom silicon empowers companies to optimize hardware and software integration, fostering seamless and efficient operations. Moreover, it can elevate security standards by implementing proprietary encryption and protection mechanisms.
However, this trend also raises concerns about standardization and interoperability. As the industry moves toward a more fragmented landscape of proprietary solutions, collaboration and compatibility challenges may arise. Striking the right balance between customization and industry-wide cohesion will be crucial for harnessing the full potential of custom silicon in shaping the future of technology.
Synaptics should be able to avoid this pothole, given its stated allegiance to industry standards as it executes its ambitions with Astra.
If anything, Synaptics’ Astra platform is setting a fresh standard by seamlessly integrating computing, artificial intelligence, connectivity, software, and a robust partner ecosystem. This innovation comes at a time when AI takes the lead in driving advancements. But most importantly, Astra has the real potential to help the company eschew the perception with some that it’s only a touchpad and smartphone company.
Astra validates that this view could not be further from the truth.