5 min read

Why consider a microcontroller for your most profitable embedded product release yet.

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When it comes to the buying patterns of North American consumers, the market is changing. It used to be that you could make one dishwasher, one toaster, and one vacuum cleaner to attract a mass audience but that is less and less the case. Successful brands now target both the high-end as well as the low-end of the market for several reasons. 

Why do brands target both the high-end and low-end of the market?

  • Hourglass economy – Upscale consumers look for luxury while those less affluent look for value
  • Brand loyalty – Young consumers become loyal long-term purchasers at the low end when they form early buying habits
  • Tech adoption curve – Early adopters are less cost-sensitive and pay more for the latest tech while technology laggards do not
  • Marketing trial – Upscale products are a great way to test new ideas before building products at volume
  • Competition – Multiple product price levels help companies grab market share away from competitors
  • Shelf space – Product proliferation captures more attention in both bricks-and-mortar and online stores

If you’re a manufacturer of consumer goods and you’re only targeting one end of the market, you’re missing out on a sizeable audience and an opportunity for growth. There are many things to consider with a high-low branding strategy, particularly when you’re migrating downwards: you don’t want to turn a business boon into a brand bust. Forbes lists five marketing strategies for introducing value-priced products into an existing premium brand that are well worth considering.

For mass success, consider embracing the microcontroller

From a technical point-of-view, successfully moving a product to the lower-end of the market often means embracing the microcontroller. NXP, ST Microelectronics, and Microchip provide some of the most used silicon for downward migration since they have product families that include microprocessors and microcontrollers (and one of the reasons why we partner with all three). Your product can start its life on a microprocessor and then efficiently move to a microcontroller when the time is right.

lightweight chips provide the cost savings

These lightweight chips provide the cost savings that allow you to move some premium features to down-market products. Of course you’ll still need to simplify your product to meet the resource constraints of the less-capable hardware. The added benefit of this (besides a smaller bill-of-materials cost) is your new down-market product will naturally lack some of the bells and whistles of its upscale predecessor so it won’t inadvertently split your customer base.

Microcontrollers cut a product’s bill of materials by eliminating higher-powered features such as MMUs and GPUs and then using that circuit space to integrate additional components onto the chip (CPU, RAM, Flash, and peripherals). These deviations from a microprocessor architecture can impact your software design in three key areas. 

Choosing an MCU impacts your embedded app design in 3 key ways: 

  • Go small. To take advantage of the on-board flash and RAM, you’ll need to keep your software bloat to a minimum. Use highly efficient software and UI frameworks that are modular and can be easily trimmed. Also, you’ll want to be as stingy as you can when it comes to graphical assets. (We’ve got lots of techniques for this, but that’s a topic for another blog.)
  • Go bare metal. Losing your MMU usually means losing your full-fledged OS or RTOS. That’s okay – an OS adds too much weight anyway. Just be sure you’re not overly dependent on all those system APIs and applications when it comes time to trim your product feature set.
  • Go GPU-less. Losing the GPU doesn’t mean losing graphics; you just have to make sure your UI framework is designed to Crank out the frames. (See what we did there?) Even if there’s no GPU, make sure your UI uses any on-board assist it can get – like 2D engines or bit-blitters – and this will make all the difference.

All of these fat-trimming factors were key behind our creation of Storyboard Lite. If you’ve used an embedded design tool like Crank Storyboard to create your upmarket product’s graphical UI, you’ll be in really good shape. By having completely inter operable and interchangeable IDEs, libraries, graphics, and scripting between Storyboard and Storyboard Lite, a Storyboard design can take advantage of both powerful MPUs and scaled-back MCUs. That means whatever resources you’ve put into your original sophisticated GUI can be leveraged into a simplified, but no less attractive, product.

If you want to take Storyboard out for a spin, download a demo image on your favourite hardware.