2013 embedded systems market study

April 24, 2013

Jack Ganssle-April 24, 2013

Get any group of engineers together and see what they'll complain about . . .'s parent company has released the results of a new survey with some fascinating data.

Surveys are funny things. Gallop presents data explaining that Americans feel strongly about X, yet at election time, the vote goes in the opposite direction. The same is true for data collected about the embedded systems industry; the numbers are usually extremely noisy and untrustworthy.

But the data from UBM's annual survey of this market has remarkable year-to-year stability. Trends are just that: fit a line to the data and the standard deviation from that line will be very small. This year 2,098 people responded, and some of the results are quite fascinating.

For instance, 11% fewer engineers are working on communications and networking equipment than just two years ago. UBM attributes this to the rise of the cloud; many companies have eliminated their on-site data centers in favor of Amazon's and others' cloud services. No matter how you may feel about this technology, it is reshaping at least this corner of our industry.

Five years ago 75% of us reported that our projects had real-time needs. That has steadily dropped in each of the succeeding years to 68%. Is this a result of Linux stealing market share? Nope. It seems the use of that operating system is slightly off, too. People aren't avoiding RTOSes because of cost; only 2% report the price to be a deterrent. 79% of respondents who don't use one eschew them because the project just doesn't need real-time multitasking.

While overall RTOS use is declining, there's also a shift to open-source versions. Puzzling, that, since cost is not an issue. Are the proprietary vendors providing poor support?

Get any group of engineers together and they'll complain about the schedule more than anything else. Turns out "schedule" is our second-favorite swear word. The winning expletive goes to "debugging tools," though we loathed these more in prior years. Maybe the vendors are listening.

For some time I've been prognosticating that the next big thing will be embedded security. So far my batting average is 0.000. But managers' worries over this has jumped by a factor of four in three years. It's still way down on the list of things that keep them awake at night (number one being "integrating new technology or tools," followed by "managing code size/complexity").

Multicore is still a marketing person's pipe dream, at least in the embedded world, with only 15% reporting the use of any kind of multicore chip. Over half of all projects use just a single processor.

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