Steve Jobs, Bob Dutton, and the Value of HW/SW
The news of Steve Jobs’ death reminds us all of the benefits of considering software and hardware as a creative duo, a topic that Stanford professor Robert Dutton talked about recently at a Semiconductor Research Corp. (SRC) event here in Austin.
I hesitate to write about Steve Jobs, because I never interviewed him. And yet – such was his impact – that he played a role in all of our lives. I can’t forget the day at Semicon West 2007 in San Francisco when a packaging editor/freelance writer named Sally Cole Johnson was showing us her new iPhone, which had just come on the market. Sally took her thumb and forefinger and spread out the text on the phone’s screen, quickly scrolled, flipped perspectives, and did some of the “insanely great” things that Jobs & Co. had developed. Suddenly, my Blackberry seemed a bit less amazing.
As a journalist, I didn’t care for Apple’s policy of aggressively pursuing news organizations which got wind of new Apple products before they were announced. But his successes kept much of the American media stimulated by the flow of Apple-centric stories. Early in my career, while I worked at the Associated Press Tokyo bureau, a colleague named Eugene Moosa-Mikami convinced me, early in 1983, to go with him to Akihabara and buy an Apple IIe computer with my AP winter bonus of 350,000 yen. That got me hooked on the wonders of electronics and changed my life, quite frankly, much for the better. Thanks, Eugene. RIP Steve.
I had to laugh when I read that Jobs practiced “Buddhist minimalism.” In our six-person family, several thousands of dollars have flowed to Cupertino as, one-by-one, my family members insisted on buying iPods, iPhones, various Apple notebooks and desktops, and soon, I am sure, iPads.
But innovate Jobs did, and in so doing proved that hardware (chips, touch screens, and, increasingly, MEMS-based sensors) and software must be inextricably intertwined. Everyone knows that, but Jobs did it.
Back to Dutton, who was in Austin to receive the SRC’s Aristotle Award for his life’s work in transistor process modeling. In the early 1970s, Dutton participated in the early IC process modeling that created the foundations of Computer-Aided Design for Technology, or TCAD.
In 1973, Hugo DeMan and co-workers at Katholike University in Leuven had published an ISSCC paper describing their bipolar modeling work, a program called SITCAP. At Stanford, Dutton’s group used SITCAP to look at process variations and parameter sensitivities of in-house devices for bio-medical circuits.
Dutton said those early studies and publications “were our first steps” in developing what was to become the Stanford University PRocess-Engineering Models (SUPREM) program. The use of spacers, retro-graded wells, and multiple ion implantation steps required improvements in ion implantation and diffusion models, Dutton said.
Much of that early work in bio-medical devices is being used in Dutton’s current work in biosensors, which he said takes up about half of his research time. “The ideas we had about scaling concepts apply to biosensors,” he said.
Dutton talked about how the U.S. research community should not abandon hardware in pursuit of software alone, adding that “Apple has redefined the platform.” Dutton said working on hardware and software as an integrated system is the key to surviving in a world where “there are a lot of good programmers all around the world.”
Jobs, and Dutton, played key roles in showing how those synergies work. We have these gentlemen as our role models for how to be “insanely great.”