Reference hardware design is a technical blueprint and contains all the essential elements of a system. A reference design kit is provided by semiconductor, embedded, mobile and handheld devices and hardware manufacturers and can be modified by 3rd party vendors to suit their specific purpose. It is used as a starting point for third parties to build upon the existing designs, enhance it and reduce their time to market, thereby cutting costs and risk.
The availability of a good reference design or development kit is critical for OEM's in deciding on a particular micro-controller or SoC for their embedded device. A reference design gives OEM's a head start in developing application software to run on an embedded device. It also allows them to understand how various components have been integrated successfully and use the reference design framework as a starting point for their own design without spending valuable time and cost in navigating the quirks of hardware to build a functioning device.
Reference designs vary dramatically, ranging from small form factor packages containing only the processor to more robust tools with large displays and circuitry that integrate multiple processors, peripherals and ports. Thus, it is critical for manufacturers to offer good, robust hardware designs and development kits as a value add to OEM's to market their products.
In general, manufacturers use reference designs to showcase the capabilities and features of their hardware such as micro-controllers, SoC, DSP's, etc. They tend to provide more complex and robust reference designs for their flagship products. However, it is quite difficult to showcase the various capabilities of these complex products without developing a software application featuring a custom user interface that runs on the reference design. For example - A GPS Navigation application on a reference design featuring a micro-controller that is targeted for the GPS market would make a much more powerful statement to OEM's and vendors than a reference design without any application.
iLink Systems has been very successful in developing and porting software applications to reference hardware designs for several companies. By building customized, UI-rich applications on reference hardware and development kits that showcase the entire feature set of their products, iLink can help transform the way semiconductor and hardware manufacturers market their products and increase their return on investment.