Consumer electronics benefit from analog technology

As we look back on another CES in Las Vegas, it continues to amaze me how much of these consumer electronics contain large amounts of analog. Without the analog functions, consumers would have no idea how much talk time is left in their cell phones, be able to listen to music, take fantastic photos or many other common functions of today’s consumer devices. I guess I’m a bit biased (being an analog guy), and I do recognize the extreme value provided by processors and other digital components, but without the ability to move between the real world and the digital domain, many consumer devices wouldn’t exist.

One area that remains squarely in the analog domain is sensors – the bridge between our physical world and the digital engines that drive these devices. Just about every consumer device has a sensor of some sort, from simple temperature sensors to elaborate multi-sensor systems utilizing sensor fusion to augment reality.

One new breed of sensor that is finding its way into personal electronics is inductive sensing. Inductive sensing has been used in industrial control for years, but with fully integrated solutions, such as the LDC1000, consumer products like cameras, domestic robots and more can greatly benefit from accurate positioning and proximity measurements. A good example of this is an auto-focus lens. Using inductive sensing as a positioning sensor is extremely simple and accurate – so the processor always knows what the current setting is on the lens.

Other sensors can be extremely beneficial for the healthcare sector. There are a number of new personal fitness and home health monitors that utilize acceleration to measure steps and activity, as well as skin resistance and pulse oximetry to measure sweat levels and blood oxygen content. Check out this video on the heath/fitness area at CES.

Devices like the AFE4400 use a simple photodiode and a couple of LEDs to create an entire analog front-end for measuring blood oxygen content as well as pulse rate – all in a tiny package taking up little more space than the bottom of a pencil eraser. These devices are very low power, allowing them to be used in portable applications ranging from in-home medical monitoring to wearable fitness devices. If you are anything like me, having digital personal trainers bugging you to work out is helping to keep those new year’s resolutions!

Personal electronics like smart phones, DVD players and HDTVs all rely on audio amplifiers. Their function has evolved to be extremely efficient using switched-mode amplifiers that use very little power, but provide excellent fidelity. Highly integrated devices such as the TAS5760LD provide a complete solution that converts a digital audio stream (via an I2S interface) directly to speakers. It even has a sophisticated headphone driver for consumers who want to listen in private – all this in a tiny 48-pin TSSOP package.

The future of consumer analog is extremely bright with new sensor technology and highly integrated, low-power analog chips, enabling all kinds of new devices. So next year when you’re walking around CES or simply reading the reviews of all the new gadgets, remember that most of them would not be possible without the analog. Till next time…