ARMing China

Travelling the Silicon RoadSHENZHEN, China — Software is a hard sell in China — in a country that understands the physical aspects of manufacturing inside and out, the concepts surrounding software are perhaps somewhat esoteric.

Furthermore, while system integration is something the Chinese technology industry is adept at, design is still relatively weak by comparison. This may make China an unlikely place to launch an embedded software and hardware company centered on microcontroller development kits, but on the other hand, that would make you the only local game in town, and being local is often a key element to doing business in China.

This is exactly what one company, Shenzhen Embest Info & Tech Co. Ltd., has done.

Embest, a privately held company started up six years ago, is the first and probably still the only domestic company to offer commercially available development tools for ARM processors. ARM is a very popular technology, and the Embest founders were already familiar with it, having worked in the industry, so it was a natural fit.

The company is focused on enterprise customers, the R&D market and education — it sells kits specifically designed for universities and engineering education.

“Things are getting a little better,” said Zhang Guo Rui, international manager for Embest, referring to the Chinese market for its products. Once domestic companies understand the concept of embedded software and what can be done with it, it’s an easy sell, he added.

And with China recognizing the need to develop its own intellectual property in order to keep the revenue generated here inside the country, the domestic market is growing. While software design was often outsourced to India in the past, this is beginning to change as more domestic companies and international companies involved in the domestic market are focusing on their design efforts in China, Zhang said.

The company is located in Shenzhen, where much of the Chinese market for its embedded software and hardware developed is located, given the huge manufacturing base in electronics here.

Still, it’s not a huge market to begin with, and a nascent one in China, so Embest has directed the marketing for its patented technology on international markets. It began selling overseas in 2003; today it is doing business in several countries, including the United States, France, Germany and South Korea.

The company has already built a reputation as a third-party supplier of ARM development products; the industry’s penchant for outsourcing to China to lower costs coupled with Embest’s position in the local Chinese market and its capability to design finished products based on ARM processors, has all helped to boost the company’s market presence both domestically and abroad, said Zhang.

Electronic News Travels to China

Eventually the company would like to expand beyond ARM and produce development kits and product designs around other technologies, such as DSPs. It’s been talking to a Western DSP chipmaker about doing just that, although the talks are only in the initial stages. Like it does for ARM, it wants to introduce tools into the Chinese market to develop designs based around the DSP.

Of course, this could provide the Chinese proverbial win-win situation: It would boost the foreign company’s presence in China via a local supplier, and help spread Embest’s presence in the international market.

Editor’s Note: As explained at length elsewhere on this site, this is a news story written by me that originally appeared on the now-defunct Electronic News’ website, which is long gone. It’s former sister pub Electronic Design News (EDN) currently holds the copyright to all Electronic News copy (to the best of my knowledge). You can still see a copy of this story at EDN.