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Freescale i.MX 6: From Consumer to Industrial – A Broad-based Vertical Market Approach

Freescale recently announced its latest product family, the i.MX 6. With on-going trends towards display technology, the i.MX 6 line is targeted at a broad array of device types. The i.MX has historically saw the highest volumes from eReaders, with design wins in Kindles and a number of Sony devices. But, as the eReader market becomes more competitive, Freescale anticipates more future revenue from segments such as automotive (particularly infotainment), medical, and industrial.

The evolution of the i.MX has been based around ARM core technology. The i.MX 6 relies on the Cortex-A9 which enables scalable performance with multi-core capabilities while maintaining a cost effective solution. The processor is also feature-loaded with PCI Express, serial ATA, DDR3 and other I/O to address the goal of a highly flexible platform.  It has HDMI to meet consumer requirements and CAN to support industrial OEMs. From an operating system perspective Linux and Android are the primary options, but QNX, Windows Compact 7, VxWorks and Greenhills’ INTEGRITY are supported as well.

In terms of vertical markets, Freescale expects the i.MX 6 to start to show up in a number of applications. Consumer devices like eReaders and, increasingly, IPTV will constitute the bulk of the market for the near future. Over the next several years there is likely to be an increased shift towards automotive, with applications in the center stack and instrument clusters, particularly as vendors continue to upgrade from analog gauges. Automotive manufacturers are beginning to build in surround-view cameras that provide the driver a view of all angles around the vehicle as well. Over the longer term, the medical space has opportunities in home patient monitoring, with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth making possible remote patient voice/video calls. To support the longer lifecycles required here, Freescale is guaranteeing supply for 15 years. Beyond these vertical markets, Freescale expects to begin to address additional markets, such as digital signage as ARM technology approaches the performance of x86.

From my perspective, one of the most interesting factors is the ecosystem of partners that Freescale has built around the i.MX 6. It not only includes established boards vendors like Congatec and Advantech, who are selling COM modules based around the processor, but also a low cost $69 Wandboard board developed by engineers in their spare time. This kind of do-it-yourself innovation really speaks to the grassroots approach that embedded hardware can still take, and it is a testament to the commitment of the embedded engineers to ensure that flexible platforms are available.

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