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Chapter 1 Overview of Embedded Application Development for Intel Architecture

Embedded systems, an emerging area of computer technology, combine multiple technologies, such as computers, semiconductors, microelectronics, and the Internet, and as a result, are finding ever-increasing application in our modern world. With the rapid development of computer and communications technologies and the growing use of the Internet, embedded systems have brought immediate success and widespread application in the post-PC era, especially as the core components of the Internet of Things. They penetrate into every corner of modern life from the mundane, such as an automated home thermostat, to industrial production, such as in robotic automationin manufacturing. Embedded systems can be found in military and national defense, healthcare, science, education, and commercial services, and from mobile phones, MP3 players, and PDAs to cars, planes, and missiles.

This chapter provides the concepts, structure, and other basic information about embedded systems and lays a theoretical foundation for embedded application development, of which application development for Android OS is becoming the top interest of developers.

Introduction to Embedded Systems

Since the advent of the first computer, the ENIAC, in 1946, the computer manufacturing process has gone from vacuum tubes, transistors, integrated circuits, and large-scale integration (LSI), to very-large-scale integration (VLSI), resulting in computers that are more compact, powerful, and energy efficient but less expensive (per unit of computing power).

After the advent of microprocessors in the 1970s, the computer-using world witnessed revolutionary change. Microprocessors are the basis of microcomputers, and personal computers (PCs) made them more affordable and practical, allowing many private users to own them. At this stage, computers met a variety of needs: they were sufficiently versatile to satisfy various demands such as computing, entertainment, information sharing, and office automation. As the adoption of microcomputers was occurring, more people wanted to embed them into specific systems to intelligently control the environment. For example, microcomputers were used in machine tools in factories. They were used to control signals and monitor the operating state through the configuration of peripheral sensors. When microcomputers were embedded into such environments, they were prototypes of embedded systems.

As the technology advanced, more industries demanded special computer systems.

As a result, the development direction and goals of specialized computer systems for specific environments and general-purpose computer systems grew apart. The technical requirement of general-purpose computer systems is fast, massive, and diversified computing, whereas the goal of technical development is faster computing speed and larger storage capacity. However, the technical requirement of embedded computer systems is targeted more toward the intelligent control of targets, whereas the goal of technical development is embedded performance, control, and reliability closely related to the target system.

Embedded computing systems evolved in a completely different way. By emphasizing the characteristics of a particular processor, they turned traditional electronic systems into modern intelligent electronic systems. Figure 1-1 shows an embedded computer processor, the Intel Atom N2600 processor, which is 2.2 × 2.2 cm, alongside a penny.

Figure 1-1. Comparison of an embedded computer chip to a US penny. This chip is an Intel Atom processor

The emergence of embedded computer systems alongside general-purpose computer systems is a milestone of modern computer technologies. The comparison of general-purpose computers and embedded systems is shown in Table 1-1.

Table 1-1. Comparison of General-Purpose Computers and Embedded Systems

Today, embedded systems are an integral part of people's lives due to their mobility. As mentioned earlier, they are used everywhere in modern life. Smartphones are a great example of embedded systems.

Mobile Phones

Mobile equipment, especially smartphones, is the fastest growing embedded sector in recent years. Many new terms such as extensive embedded development and mobile

development have been derived from mobile software development. Mobile phones not only are pervasive but also have powerful functions, affordable prices, and diversified applications. In addition to basic telephone functions, they include, but are not limited to, integrated PDAs, digital cameras, game consoles, music players, and wearables.

Consumer Electronics and Information Appliances

Consumer electronics and information appliances are additional big application sectors for embedded systems. Devices that fall into this category include personal mobile devices and home/entertainment/audiovisual devices.

Personal mobile devices usually include smart handsets such as PDAs, as well as wireless Internet access equipment like mobile Internet devices (MIDs). In theory, smartphones are also in this class; but due to their large number, they are listed as a single sector.

Home/entertainment/audiovisual devices mainly include network television like interactive television; digital imaging equipment such as digital cameras, digital photo frames, and video players; digital audio and video devices such as MP3 players and other portable audio players; and electronic entertainment devices such as handheld game consoles, PS2 consoles, and so on. Tablet PCs (tablets), one of the newer types of embedded devices, have become favorites of consumers since Apple released the iPad in 2010.

The affordability of consumer electronics truly reflects the cost-effectiveness of embedded system design.

 
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