Spansion CEO John Kispert mapped out an individualized product strategy for the semiconductor memory vendor at today’s Globalpress Electronics Summit being held this week in Santa Cruz, California. Kispert first pointed out that Spansion currently has approximately 8000 customers who have designed Spansion semiconductor memory into more than 100,000 end products in a very wide cross section of the electronics business. “Each customer gives us a little glimpse of the next two to three years in the electronics industry,” he said. Together, those glimpses have gelled into a strategy that’s clearly intended to keep Spansion apart from the semiconductor vendors competing for the commodity semiconductor memory business.
Kispert’s presentation focused on the growing importance of a product’s user interface. Over the last few decades, there has been quite an evolution in user interfaces and Kispert mentioned two. The first example is the mobile telephone handset. In the 1990s, the user interface was little more than a keypad and a 1-line LED display or a simple monochrome LCD. Eventually, the single-line displays gave way to more complex, full-color, graphical LCDs but the keypad remained the primary user input device until Apple upset the—er—apple cart with the iPhone. Suddenly, every phone needed a large, graphical LCD with a touch-screen interface.
The second example was video games. In the 1970s, said Kispert, we had Atari Pong. The user interface consisted of two single-turn potentiometers and a black-and-white CRT with blocky graphics. Thirty years later came the Microsoft Kinect and the Nintendo Wii, with user interfaces based on gesture recognition and full-body movement.
In both cases, the memory capacity and bandwidth requirements have climbed with the increasing complexity of the user interface. Kispert predicted that trend would continue, with the next step being far more capable voice recognition. “Spansion is spending a lot of high-end talent on developing support” for speech-based user interfaces, he said. That’s in contrast to other semiconductor memory vendors who are ramping development of more advanced, high-density NAND Flash technologies for commodity markets—the SSD market in particular.
Voice recognition requires dedicated local hardware (processor and memory) to deliver a speech-based user interface that’s sufficiently accurate and that responds quickly claimed Kispert. It’s a technology problem that will take about three years to solve, he predicted, and then he stated that Spansion was working with Nuance as a partner on advanced speech-recognition technology.
Where might this technology be used? Kispert gave one example, a venue already experimenting with speech recognition: the automotive segment. Cars are becoming smart computers on wheels and voice recognition, as well as facial and gesture recognition, seem destined to replace many manual controls currently found in cars. It’s much safer to use a gesture to adjust radio volume than to reach over and grope for a volume-control knob on the dashboard said Kispert.
Gesture and face recognition may well find their ways into other products where no such recognition is currently used, he added. For example a television might use facial recognition to recognize a user who only looks at three channels (Dad) as opposed to teenage users who frequently view as many as 45 channels. Why offer up unused channels if you can recognize the person using the TV right now? Why not simplify the choices when possible?
This future as described by Kispert contained a surprise at the end. In three to five years, Spansion plans to be adding controllers and software to its memory technology to create complete semiconductor solutions to the problems associated with interfacing to users. Many academics have predicted the advent of smart memory. Now the CEO of Spansion has indicated that he too sees a future there and he’s taking Spansion towards that goal.