Screens everywhere make a GUI dilemma

November 06, 2013

Jack Ganssle-November 06, 2013

I had one of those medical events this summer that netted a panicked wife, fun ambulance ride, and ultimately a completely benign diagnosis. But for a couple of weeks they had me monitoring blood glucose levels using a $10 monitor and a $150 supply of test strips.

Afterwards, of course, I disassembled the monitor and found it runs on a pair of coin cells. An MSP430 16-bit MCU controls everything, including an LCD display that shows quite a bit of information.

Remember the old days of a simple seven segment display? We'd torture them into displaying some alphabetic characters and hope users could distinguish a "B" from an "8" based on context. Now it seems that fancy screens are everywhere. Without stirring from my chair, I can see the following screens:

  • 2 monitors on the PC
  • The laptop (Macbook Pro)
  • My main oscilloscope (Agilent MSO-X-3054A)
  • A VOM (an Extech I'm falling out of love with)
  • At least a dozen various embedded eval boards
  • A bunch of electronic products like the glucose monitor I've disassembled
  • The little Canon point-and-shoot camera
  • Screens on the lab power supplies
  • iPhone
  • iPad mini
  • Several VoIP phones
That's without spinning around to see the printers, other computers, and who knows what else in the same room.

Digikey lists an astonishing 4,764 different Cortex M-series MCUs. Over 600 have an LCD controller on board. Today we certainly live in the time of screens everywhere. There will be a lot more in the future.

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