Issue



2017 sees advances in connected devices, memory


2017-11-07 09:26:39

The technologies to watch identified by TechInsights analysts at the beginning of the year have not been disappointing.

BY STACY WEGNER, Ottawa, Canada, and JEONGDONG CHOE, Ottawa, Canada

TechInsights analysts have been keeping an intent watch on where technology has progressed, how it’s changing, and what new developments are emerging. At the end of the first quarter, our analysts shared their insights and thoughts about what to keep an eye on as the year unfolds. In this article, they provide an update on what 2017 has delivered so far.

Intelligent, connected devices

As we wrote earlier this year, in 2016, wearables were extremely interesting mainly because there was so much uncertainty around whether or not the market would be viable. Some, no, many, say the wearables market will cool off and possibly just expire. At TechInsights, we do will not speculate about whether this market is going to survive. We will report what we find and analyze what is currently being sold. Apple, Samsung, and Huawei have all released smartwatches for what would parallel a “flagship” in the mobile market (FIGURE 1). Fitness bands are becoming even ”smarter” and combining sensors where possible. Perhaps one of the most notable developments is Nokia’s acquisition and complete integration of Withings into its existing brands.

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We are witnessing the “rise of the machines,” in products from scales and hair brushes to rice cookers. Primarily these devices offer consumers convenience. For example, with a connected scale, instead of recording your weight manually, the smart scales do the job for you, syncing with various health apps so you can track your weight over time. The connected hair brush provides insights into your hair’s manageability, frizziness, dryness, split ends and breakage to provide a hair quality score. Brushing patterns, pressure applied and brush stroke counts are analyzed to measure effectiveness of brushing habits and a personal diagnosis is provided with tips and real-time product recommendations. The most common connected devices include refrigerators, lights, washing machines, thermostats, and televisions.

One dominant example is the ever-popular Amazon Echo, which has taken on a life of its own and is generating spin-off markets and competition. In July, it was reported that Amazon’s Alexa voice platform passed 15,000 skills — the voice-powered apps that run on devices like the Echo speaker, Echo Dot, newer Echo Show and others. The figure is up from the 10,000 skills Amazon officially announced in February. Amazon’s Alexa is building out an entire voice app ecosystem putting it much further ahead than its nearest competitor. The success seen with Echo has motivated other companies like Google, Lenovo, LG, Samsung and Apple to release compet- itive speakers, however it is estimated that Amazon is expected to control 70 percent of the market this year. In addition, Amazon and Microsoft recently announced a partnership to better integrate their digital assistants. This cross-platform integration provides users with access to Cortana features that Alexa is missing, and vice versa. Finally, the high- performance far-field microphones found in Amazon Echo products may soon find their way to other hardware companies as Amazon announced that the technology is available to those who want to integrate into the Alexa Experience. With its new reference solution, it’s never been easier for device makers to integrate Alexa and offer their customers the same voice experiences.

In the mobile market overall, we are seeing a strong emergence of devices targeted for the very hot market of India. The mobile devices for this market range from supporting 15 or more cellular bands to as few as five cellular bands, and that is for smart- phones. At TechInsights, we will be analyzing OEMs in India like Micromax, Intex, and Lava to see how they approach dealing with strong competitors like Samsung and Xiaomi.

Memory devices

In early 2017, 32L and 48L 3D NAND products were common and all the NAND players were eager to develop next generation 3D NAND products such as 64L and 128L. 3D NAND has been jumping into 64L (FIGURE 2). Samsung, Western Digital, Toshiba, Intel, and Micron already revealed CS or mass-products on the market. SK Hynix also showed their 72L NAND die as a CS product. In the second half of this year, we will see 64L and 72L NAND products on the commercial market. For n+1 generation with 96L or 128L, we expect that two-stacked cell array architecture for 3D NAND would be adopted in 2018. Micron/Intel will keep their own FG based 3D NAND cell structure for the next generation.

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Referring to DRAM, all the major players already used their advanced process technology for cell array integration such as an advanced ALD for high-k dielectrics, low damage plasma etching and honeycomb capacitor structure. Buried WL, landing pad and plug for a capacitor node, and MESH structure are still main stream. Samsung 18nm DRAM products for DDR4 and LPDDR4X are on the market. SK Hynix and Micron will reveal the same tech node DRAM products in this year. n+1 gener- ation with 15nm or 16nm node will be next in 2018. Once 6F2 15nm DRAM cell technology is successful, 4F2 DRAM products such as a capacitorless DRAM might be delayed. In 2018, 18nm and 15nm DRAM technology will be used for GDDR6 and LPDDR5.

When it comes to emerging memory, 3D XPoint memory technology is a hot potato (FIGURE 3). The XPoint products from Intel are on the market as an Optane SSD with 16GB and 32GB. Performance including retention, reliability and speed are not matched as expected, but they used a double stacked memory cell between M4 and M5 on the memory array. It’s a PCM with GST based material. An OTS with Se-As-Ge-Si is added between the PCM and the electrode (WL or BL). We expect to see multiple (triple or quadruple) stacked XPoint memory architecture within a couple years. For other emerging memory such as STT-MRAM, PCRAM and ReRAM, we’re waiting on some commercial products from Adesto (CBRAM 45nm, RM33 series) and Everspin (STT-MRAM pMTJ 256Mb, AUP-AXL-M128).

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Conclusion

The technologies to watch identified by TechInsights analysts at the beginning of the year have not been disappointing. As our analysts continue to examine and reveal the innovations others can’t inside advanced technology, we will continue to share our findings on these and new technologies as they emerge, including how they are used, how they impact the market, and how they will be changed by the next discovery or invention.