Jun 13, 2022Liked by Doug O'Laughlin

I work in electronics design and manufacturing. STM32 MCUs are impossible to buy at the moment, have been for the last year, and probably will be for the next too (unless you are a Tier 1 like Apple). This has caused an interesting effect; everyone is designing out STM32 parts as fast as possible, and not even considering them for new builds. Instead, they are being replaced by Chinese grown MCUs that are “clones” of STM32s like the gigadevice GD32 or Geehy APM32, as well as the more well known Espressif ESP32 which seems to be relatively available on the market.

And truthfully, the reason STM32s are the number 1 MCU is not the software libraries, which were awful and buggy for the first 5-10 years - they actually made development slower than programming on a register level. The real reason is that they were cheap with lots of peripherals and relatively abundant; ST also pioneered the low cost evaluation kit where you could buy an MCU dev kit for $20 instead of $2000 which was unheard of at the time. This caused the low end of the market to standardise on them. Since hobbyists, universities and engineers playing with their first ARM MCU were all using STM32, you could basically assume that anyone who applied for a job in embedded systems had some experience with them. And because it is what everyone had experience with, that is what they chose for their designs. Other vendors later followed with cheap dev kits, but it was too late.

Unless ST can solve its supply problems soon, I think they will begin to see their market shrink from the low cost end. They probably won’t care about this initially as it would hardly register in their profits, but in the long term the general knowledge base of everyone will be moving away from their devices (and to some extent, already is), giving mindshare and revenue to their competitors like Gigadevice, Nordic and Espressif and allowing them to grow.

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