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Is this the Death Knell for NFC in Mobile Payments?

On September 12, 2012, Apple introduced the iPhone 5.  One of the biggest rumors surrounding the device was would it have NFC (Near Field Communications) built in.  A big reason for the rumors is that Android has supported NFC since Gingerbread was released, and the first Android NFC-enabled phone was the Samsung Nexus S which was released in December 2010.  So the iPhone is well behind Android phones in this area.

The iPhone 5 will debut with the brand-new iOS 6, which includes Passbook, Apple’s new wallet app.  This app manages information that might normally be stored in a wallet or purse, such as coupons, store loyalty cards, movie and concert tickets, airline boarding passes, and more.  It also supports payments in a limited fashion, such as Starbucks’ card that allows payment via barcode.  However, NFC was not mentioned in the product launch, so we can only assume that the iPhone 5 will not have it built in.

NFC enables mobile payments simply by touching your mobile phone to a payment terminal.  Passbook could be a sign that NFC will come to the iPhone in the future, as it gets people used to using their phone for payments and coupon management.  It is still possible that the iPhone 5 contains NFC, and we will see for sure when the teardowns roll in once the device is released.

The End of the Fitbit Experience

To wrap up this Fitbit experiment, I'd like to address some of the comments from my previous articles over at EBN Online.  So for this article, I'd like to direct everyone over to the EBN website where I hope you'll participate in the comment discussion that happened throughout the month.

Midway Through the Fitbit Experiment

I'm sitting here angrily munching on gingersnaps because the Fitbit dashboard makes me enter every single cookie separately. Or I could enter them by weight. How about I just round up to 10? Will that make you happy, Fitbit? Now I'm going to eat 10 gingersnap cookies to spite something. Probably myself.

The other day I felt dejected. OK, I was only mildly dejected, but still, there was a small nagging voice in the back of my head saying, "You only climbed 47 floors yesterday. You missed your 50 goal by just three floors. I'm ashamed of your pitiful effort."

To get revenge, I made myself jog up and down the stairs until my Fitbit flashed 50. Then, panting and sweaty, I walked over to my computer, opened Outlook, and refreshed until my 50 floor badge popped up.


Week 2 taught me that the Fitbit and I don't have a healthy relationship. Unhealthy relationships are what friends are for, so I befriended some people in my age group. Now, when I log in to the dashboard, I see our rankings on the side.

Fitbit Week One Summary

My previous article on the Fitbit introduced the product and the setup.  Day 2 was pretty active for me. I worked on demolishing my garage, went on a hike that was probably a few miles long, and tackled some insane blackberry weeds. So what did Fitbit have to say about all this activity?

Absolutely nothing, because I forgot to put on my Fitbit until after dinner. I also forgot to wear it at night for the sleep monitoring aspect.

Great. It's only Day 2 and I'm already a failure. Day 2's accomplishments included: climbing "the world's tallest sand castle" and scheduling a reminder in my phone to wear the Fitbit.

Day 3 
Today I managed to remember to keep the Fitbit on, and because I can't be trusted, I've decided to just leave it on the wristband 24/7. I have no fashion sense anyway, so it's a good tradeoff. Today, I got this in my email:

I feel special already. Later in the day I ended up getting another email, congratulating me on climbing 10 floors in one day. I might have been happier with this accomplishment if it hadn't been included with a taunt to climb 25 floors tomorrow.

What am I, a machine?

Day 4 
Yes. I am a machine.

After getting this message I did a victory lap up and down my staircase, not so much because I was proud, but because I needed to up my numbers. The dashboard is starting to control my life, and it's only been a few days.

Manufacturing and MEMS...a sweet solution

There’s been a lot of attention focused on MEMS in the past couple of years and rightfully so. In 2011 when total semiconductor revenues grew by only 1.3%, MEMS revenues grew by over 34%. MEMS have been activating air bags in our cars and projecting images on DLP screens for years, but it wasn’t until the accelerometer in smartphones when mainstream semiconductor manufacturers decided they wanted a piece of the action.

No doubt, MEMS is still in its infancy. But will this market experience an inflection point that will trigger a meteoric rise in sales causing shortages and a market imbalance? And if so, when will that happen?

There are MEMS products available today which offer more efficient timing devices, displays, and microphones. MEMS are also opening the door to new applications with innovative developments in energy harvesting. Yet, many of these products are still playing second string to the traditional solutions currently available. What will it take for all these products to enter the market in volume? There are several variables that come into play, but the most important are cost and availability.

Starting a Fitbit Experiment

As part of my trip to the Freescale Technology Forum, I was introduced to the Fitbit Ultra, a wireless activity and sleep tracker. One of the themes of FTF this year was "connected intelligence." We are a community that is becoming obsessed with tracking data, especially personal data.

So, I'll bite. Let's do this thing. Over the next month, I'll go through the process and document it here for your entertainment (or mockery -- I'm pretty sure I walk maybe ten steps within a day).

The first thing I noticed upon opening the box, other than the wonderful smell of hotel soap, was directions to go to to set up the device. It doesn't seem to work unless you set up a profile. Fair enough. Everything these days wants us to log in to something or another.

Freescale Technology Forum: More Useful & Relevant Than CES

These days the semiconductor industry seems to have a conference every week, but two that stand out in the consumer arena are the Consumer Electronic Show (CES) in Las Vegas and the Freescale Technology Forum (FTF) in San Antonio.

I go to CES almost every year, and it was very frustrating this last time around. This year I decided to partake in the panels that went on throughout the week, and was sorely disappointed in how lacking in foresight many of the speakers were. I've written about my disappointment with CES here on EBN. (See: Battle of the Digital Ecosystems and The Agony of Digital Rights Management.)

Legacy Fab Issues At The ConFab 2012

The ConFab 2012 highlighted sessions on the semiconductor industry’s blockbuster topics impacting advance technology manufacturing such as the transition to 450mm wafers and the increasing importance of 3D integration and advanced packaging. But this year the conference also allocated time to a discussion revolving around legacy manufacturing. Unlike finFETs and 450mm wafers, the challenges faced by mature production facilities are seldom in the headlines. However, as Sanjay Rajguru, Director at SEMATECH/ISMI, pointed out, over half of the current fab capacity comes from facilities that are more than 10 years old.

The challenges faced by older production facilities include equipment obsolescence, skills obsolescence, availability of parts, software and support and equipment capability extension and tool re-use. Maintaining “More than Moore” fabs is a major concern to semiconductor manufacturers as these operations reach 20 or even 30 years old.

At the ConFab 2012 Executive Roundtable representatives from Sematech/ISMI, IDMs, OEMs, equipment dealers, and industry consultants gathered to have an open discussion on concerns, roadblocks and possible solutions.

ADI Raises the Bar on Low Power Consumption for MEMS Accelerometers

Analog Devices has announced a MEMS accelerometer with the lowest power consumption, the ADXL362. The company cites the following levels as the lowest in the industry:

  • Measurement current: 2 µA
  • Wakeup mode: 300 µA
  • Sleep current: 10 nA

The innovation that ADI has achieved is the design of the control circuit for the accelerometer. More intelligence and interrupt processing has been designed into the control logic. The MEMS sensor itself is also low power, but it was designed to fit the control circuit.

ADI has focused on the usage model for the accelerometer. This is not intended for portable consumer and smartphone applications which already have a cost effective solution. In these products consumers are accustomed to plugging in a device to recharge on a daily basis. ADI is targeting the ADXL362 at markets that require long battery life, on the order of years. These are applications that it is either costly and/or very difficult to change the battery. This includes monitoring remote or dangerous locations such as pipelines, bridges, tall buildings, etc. Other applications include sealed environments (military and medical monitoring), cattle tracking and gas meters.

The Tablet PC Usage Model Continues to Evolve For the Next Generation

About a week ago I had the pleasure of attending Phoenix ComicCon.  It is not as big a convention as ComicCon International in San Diego, but it keeps growing.  Frequent readers of the Semico Spin may remember I report on the consumer electronic trends I see at that show.

One of the big draws at Phoenix ComicCon was the 25th Anniversary of the TV show “Star Trek: the Next Generation.”  One of the panels was focused on actor Levar Burton.  I met Levar Burton at the Intel Developer’s Forum in 2010.  The video in this article was in the original article for IDF 2010.  Levar Burton appeared at IDF 2010 to promote Intel’s efforts in SmartTV.

In addition to his work as a performer, Mr. Burton also has a production company that is developing content for new media.  At IDF 2010 he did not go into details on these projects.  Besides Star Trek, Levar Burton is also well known as the producer and host of “Reading Rainbow”, (1983 to 2006) a TV show  that encouraged children to read.