Altium product manager Rob Irwin shares some personal thoughts on AltiumLive and its significance to electronics design.
As many of you know, Altium recently acquired Morfik, a developer of software tools used to create web applications. On the surface it’s a puzzling match up. Altium makes tools to design and develop electronic devices. Morfik makes tools to develop web stuff. Where’s the synergy?
I must confess that at first I was struggling to answer that question.
Then I got a Kindle!
The Amazon book reader features ‘anytime’ access to the internet via the 3G mobile network. I knew this when I bought it, and I understood that this would let my buy and download books at any time from virtually anywhere. What I didn’t understand was how this pervasive connectivity would fundamentally change my reading habits. And it was one relatively minor feature that opened my mind to the underlying power of the technology.
Before I got the Kindle reader I had been using the Kindle for PC application on my laptop. When my Kindle arrived, the first thing I did was download the books I’d already purchased via my laptop. It only took a few minutes and I had my modest library installed on the Kindle reader. I opened up the book I had been reading on the laptop to test out the beautiful E-Ink screen.
It took a few seconds to register that I was staring at the last page I’d been reading on my laptop several days before. How did the Kindle reader know that? Obviously the PC application had used my Amazon account on the web to store where I was up to, and then passed this information to the Kindle device when it went online. Of course, being an engineer I had to play with the technology, so I flicked forward a couple of pages, booted up the laptop and opened the Kindle app. Still in synch! I even borrowed my daughter’s iPod Touch and downloaded the Kindle app for that. Worked like a charm.
That was when I realized in a very tangible way that the electronic device I was holding in my hand was only part of the ‘product’ I had purchased. The extension of the device into the web, facilitated through my Amazon account, made this bundle of silicon, metal, glass and plastic so much more than the sum of its parts.
Of course the Kindle and Amazon are just one of a growing number of examples of the marrying of web and electronics device technologies. But it underlines the point that the internet and device connectivity are fundamentally changing what it means to be a designer and developer of electronic products.
We are entering a new age for both the electronics and internet industries. An age where web technologies will play as important a part in designing electronic products as components and PCBs do. An age where the software in a device in not necessary ‘embedded’, but dynamically linked to and derived from servers sitting somewhere in the cloud. This is an age where our traditional views of device design just don’t give us the whole picture.
And that brings me to AltiumLive. The forums, blog, BugCrunch and downloads that you see today are the visible parts of an ecosystem that connects Altium Designer to the web. The AltiumLive infrastructure provides a platform to deliver the content and services necessary to build the next generation of electronics devices that span both the hardware and online worlds. The new release of the Altium Designer application connects to and uses this ecosystem to provide you with functionality - Vault storage, for example - that goes beyond the confines of the application itself. And as the AltiumLive ecosystem develops and grows, so do the possibilities.
So in today’s world of connected people and connected devices, the combination of Altium and Morfik makes complete sense. Device technology and web technology are increasingly two sides of the same coin. Similarly, Altium Designer and AltiumLive are simply different manifestations of a single system. A system to connect hardware design technology with software design. A system to connect electronics functionality to web functionality. In short, a system to connect devices and people.
As an electronics engineer I’m driven by practical considerations. I find it difficult, a little bit overwhelming and at times frightening to grasp the implications of many of the changes going on around me. I often think, “well, this doesn’t apply to me or to my job”. But the truth is that these changes are happening, regardless of what I think. And as an engineer I do what I’ve always done - analysed the problem, distilled out the fundamental issues and acquired the tools I need to tackle these issues and arrive at a solution.
Even though I’ve been part of the development of AltiumLive, I’m still excited by the possibilities it embodies. I don’t know what shape it will take as it develops. I don’t know what services and functionality it will offer in the future. But I do know that the fusion of web and device technologies is the way of the future. It’s a future I want to be part of. And it’s a future that I want you to be part of.
Now where was I up to in this book? Never mind. I’m sure my Kindle knows!
About the AuthorMore Content by Rob Irwin