Jim “make me some money” Hogan, perhaps the most visible VC in EDA, has just published an article titled “Jobs’ Law” on the System-Level Design Community Web site where he defines Jobs’ Law (Jobs, Steve Jobs, who shakes whole industries and doesn’t just stir them). Here’s Hogan’s definition:
“The user experience is never compromised.”
That’s it. Easy to remember. Pithy. Earth shattering. The philosophy made Macintosh. It made the iPod. It made the iPhone. It made the iPad.
It made Apple what it is today… the most highly valued consumer brand in the high-tech industry.
After defining Jobs’ Law, Hogan then relates it to the EDA and semiconductor industries. First, the bad news:
“It’s all about consumer markets and it’s all about software applications. Interestingly, it appears the systems companies have realized it is the way to capture more value for them and allow for differentiation and exclusivity in their system products. No one understands this better than Apple.”
If software is the preferred path to differentiation, then where does that leave hardware? Where does it leave semiconductor design?
Hogan’s answer: “In my mind, that biggest challenge is all about the tremendous shift toward true system-on-chip (SoC) design… Microsoft talking about its SoC strategy at CES earlier this year. Who would have thought that a consumer software company could even spell SoC?”
Later in this blog post, he writes:
“Of course, the software still requires the underlying hardware, which is what makes the EDA and IP industries still very relevant. Especially when you look at the massive costs and development times required to develop an SoC.”
Hogan also introduces the term “SoC 3.0” in this post and he makes it clear that he’s talking about the EDA360 concept of System realization:
“With SoC 3.0 software is king and programmability is the key, a departure from the hardware-focused era of gates-and-switches chip design. Application software defines the differentiated value of the system for the consumer.”
These ideas go hand-in-hand with the processorization of SoCs and the growing reliance on commercial design IP in general. After all, what’s all that software going to run on? Processors, of course. On-chip processors. The more, the merrier as we evolve from canning specific features in RTL to developing platform designs that bristle with software-controllable function blocks. These function blocks range from 2- and 4-core (and 5-core) symmetric-multiprocessing processor complexes (see “Processor Wars: NVIDIA reveals a phantom fifth ARM Cortex-A9 processor core in Kal-El mobile processor IC. Guess why it’s there?”), to graphics processing units (see “What would you do with a 23,000-simultaneous-thread school of piranha?…asks NVIDIA”), to audio processors, network processors, etc, etc, etc. Anything that can be reasonably transformed into a processor will be because doing so increases flexibility and reduces design risk. In today’s markets, how can we know what features we’re going to need next year? Implement the features as much in firmware as you can and keep the platform for an extra generation or two (or three). As Hogan states in one of his slides, “CPU and GPU are the new gates.”
These trends bode well for EDA tools involved with Silicon Realization and SoC Realization. Hogan writes:
“The most fundamental challenge is ensuring that what is intended at the highest level of abstraction actually gets implemented in silicon by the steps performed at lower levels of detail. Thus ensuring architectural intent or convergence, making sure nothing gets “lost in translation,” is a major issue within the current SoC design flow.”
He also writes: “My guess is next year at DAC we will be seeing more than a few people talking about that as the discussion moves to up to System Realization.”
I’m certain that he’s right.
To read Jim Hogan’s full blog entry, click here.