Companies such as Motorola, Apple, Nest, and Fitbit have been targeting the Internet of Things (IoT) and wearables market with devices for the past several years. However, if the smartphone revolution was any indication, we are merely at the tip of the iceberg for these devices. Even Apple acknowledged as much by naming the processor inside the Apple Watch the “S1”, clearly planning for future revisions.

Today, hoping to capitalize on this next wave of technology proliferation, MediaTek is formally launching their Labs program for IoT and wearables. This is one of many announcements we will see over the next year as companies look to enter this market.

MediaTek Labs' goal is to be a central hub for developers to collaborate on everything from side-projects to big business device production. With Labs, MediaTek provides software and hardware development kits (SDKs and HDKs), technical documentation, example code, and discussion forums. MediaTek was a late entry into the smart phone market in 2009/2010 but has since exploded in popularity largely due to very complete reference designs and aggressive pricing. MediaTek aims to reproduce this success, only earlier, for the IoT and wearables space.

When discussing hardware, it’s important to keep in mind there are actual several sub markets. I’ve reproduced a slide and table from MediaTek that does a decent job laying out the differences.

MediaTek's IoT and Wearables Market Segment Description
  One Application Use (OAU) Simple Application Use (SAU) Rich Application Use (RAU)
Examples

Fitness Tracker
Health Tracker
Simple Bluetooth

Smart Wristband
Smart Watch
Child/Elderly Safety
High-end Smart Watch
Smart Glasses

Hardware

MCU (<100 MHz)
Bluetooth
Sensor

MCU (100-300 MHz)
Bluetooth
Sensors

AP (>1GHz w/ multi-core)
Bluetooth
Sensors
TFT Display

Optional Hardware LED Display LED or TFT Display
GSM/GPRS
GPS
Wi-Fi
See-Through Display
GSM/GPRS
GPS
Wi-Fi
OS None Mostly RTOS Mostly Linux
Price Point Lowest Middle Highest
Battery Life Long (>7 days) Medium (5-7 days) Short (2-3 days)
Characteristics

Limited computing power, focusing on one task (such as sports, health, find device)

Mostly non-display or with very simply LED display

May have multiple functions and can update apps

Also need outdoor/indoor positioning

Focus for MediaTek LinkIt and Aster (MT2502) chipset

Multiple apps and functions

Sophisticated UI with more powerful graphics and multimedia features

One thing I do not like about this table is it insinuates these markets are mutually exclusive. While I agree there are indeed hardware and software differences between sub markets, with low enough sleep power and smart enough software, a single device could contain both a high performance applications processor (AP) as well as a low power microcontroller (MCU). In fact, that’s exactly what Intel’s Edison platform and many smart phones do, such as the Moto XNevertheless, hybrid devices are certainly more complicated and there is a lot of success to be had focusing on a single task.

For example, the popular Pebble smart watch and Nest thermostat each contain a simple MCU with no high performance AP.  This is exactly what MediaTek is targeting with their first platform release on labs: LinkIt. LinkIt actually refers to MediaTek’s new MCU operating system, which is launching alongside a new SoC named Aster or MT2502. Additionally, a hardware development kit from partner Seed Studio is available through Labs, as well as a software development kit to aid in firmware development and to help port existing Arduino code.

The core of this kit is of course the new Aster MT2502 SoC. MediaTek feels it is uniquely positioned with an SoC that contains an MCU, Power Management Unit (PMU), Memory, Bluetooth 4.0, and a GSM and GPRS Dual SIM modem (850/900/1800/1900MHz). The total size of the SoC is 5.4x6.2mm. If GPS/GLONASS/BEIDOU or WiFi b/g/n are desired, MediaTek provides compatible external ICs for each.

MediaTek Aster MT2502 SoC
Size 5.4mm x 6.2mm
Package 143-ball, 0.4mm pitch, TFBGA
CPU ARM7 EJ-S 260MHz
Memory 4MB RAM integrated
Storage 4MB Flash integrated
PAN Dual Bluetooth 4.0
WAN GSMS and GPRS dual SIM modem
Power PMU and charger functions
Low power mode and sensor hub function
Multimedia AMR speech codec, HE-AAC music codec, Integrated audio amplifier, JPEG decoder/encoder, MJPEG decoder/encoder, MPEG4 decoder/encoder
Interfaces LCD, VGA camera, I2C, SPI, UART, GPIO, SDIO, USB 1.1, Keypad, Serial Flash, JTAG, ADC, DAC, PWM, FM Radio

Developers eager to get their hands dirty can do so as of today for $79. The LinkIt One development board is available and shipping from Seed Studio. This board combines the Aster MT2502A SoC, MT5931 for WiFi, MT3332 for GPS, audio codec, SD card, many I/O interfaces similar to Arduino, and Arduino shield compatibility.

It will be a while before we see non-prototype designs featuring LinkIt and Aster hit the market, but if MediaTek has its way that will only be the start. MediaTek plans on releasing more SDKs, HDKs, and chips through their Labs website and partners over the next few years. As of this writing MediaTek has already posted a beta SDK and emulator for Android targeting the higher performance IoT and wearable devices. While I am not personally sure just what additional smart devices I need in my life right now, I actually think that gets me more excited about the future than otherwise.

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  • jjj - Monday, September 22, 2014 - link

    They first announced Aster quite a while ago and it was sampling to some in January (that's when i've seen the first reports in the press about it) so maybe there will be some products a lot sooner than you think.
    Anyway we need proper chips for the category, not smartphone chips so hope others put some effort into it too.
    Reply
  • Shadowmaster625 - Monday, September 22, 2014 - link

    Is the SoC on the back? It has to be more than 16 leads... Reply
  • rwt - Monday, September 22, 2014 - link

    Why an ARM7 vs a Cortex-M3 or something like that? Reply
  • Stephen Barrett - Monday, September 22, 2014 - link

    I had the same thought Reply
  • isa - Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - link

    I realize that the departure of Anand is a severe hit to this site that may be permanent, but it would be great if there was any attempt at comparing in an insightful way this announcement with the competing ARM press release reprinted here, and any other press releases of competing IoT tech reprinted in this website in the last few days. Since I have a day job, I just don't have the time to independently assess the merits of commenting press releases to understand what is really going on, which is something this website did very well before Anand departed but is already showing significant decay since he departed. Reply
  • Stephen Barrett - Tuesday, September 23, 2014 - link

    Hi Isa,

    I referenced this article from the M7 article when discussing the sub markets of wearables and IoT. See page 3. http://www.anandtech.com/show/8542/cortexm7-launch...

    In general, the Aster SoC from MediaTek contains an ARM7 CPU that could be replaced with the new Cortex-M7. It wouldn't change much of the rest of the SoC other than it could possibly implement tightly coupled memory with the M7.
    Reply
  • anirudhgargi - Friday, September 26, 2014 - link

    Did anybody else noticed USB 1.1 ?

    Why ? saving power ?
    They can pull less power( ~100mah) if used this as an charging option. 2.0 is pretty much standard.
    Just to remember USB 1.1 controller when attached to window after give some ugly pop-ups of being slow.
    Reply

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