Friday, October 2, 2009

You get what you pay for

The other week I was passing one of my local car dealerships and I noticed a car brand that I hadn’t seen before. It was a Chinese manufactured 4x4 and it was listed at about $20K less than a similar 4x4 that I’ve had my eye on for awhile. Of course my initial reaction was it couldn’t be all that good but in spite of that, I took one for a test drive.

To my surprise, I can honestly say that it wasn’t an entirely horrible experience and I was seriously considering my options. There were a few niggling things such as very heavy suspension and a driver’s side mirror that didn’t fold out far enough but overall it felt like a pretty solid vehicle. When I returned it and started talking turkey with the salesman, I asked him about the extra options. I wanted tinted windows, a tub-liner and canopy for the rear tray, and a towbar. As expected, they were all additional options that pushed the price up by about $3000 but hey, you get what you pay for right?

Ok, I agree. For most things you do in fact get what you pay for. But does that also mean that if I want less, I can expect to pay less? Altium Designer is a unified design tool that includes (amongst other things) PCB, FPGA, CAM, Simulation, and Embedded Software development capabilities. So should I expect to pay less if I don’t want the FPGA bits? Or maybe I don’t want the embedded software stuff; can I pay less if I leave that out?

How you respond to this question really depends on your philosophical position. If you think FPGA or Embedded Software is an optional extra, then you’d rightly expect to not have to pay for it if you didn’t want it. But what if it isn’t? What if FPGA and Embedded Software development is a necessary part of sustainable product development? Surely it should always be included as part of the ‘base model’.

Put another way, what if I wanted to buy a Volvo without airbags? Will they sell it cheaper? What if I only want two forward gears, can I remove the top three gears and get a discount? Of course not. The reality is that these features are so much a part of the complete product that it doesn’t make much sense to try to remove them.

In the same vain, Altium views FPGA and Embedded design capabilities as being so fundamental to the future of electronics product development that it makes no sense to treat them as optional extras or ‘delete items’ that you can take off the price. We are all heading towards a future built on smarter products that continue to increase their reliance on functionality defined in the soft realm, and whether today’s customers choose to use these capabilities or not will not change the inevitability of that future.

Maybe you do get what you pay for, but maybe you need more than you realize.

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