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The Pessimist Mystique?

Do periods of economic downturn create more pessimists, or do they just get more attention during tough times?  Economists and politicians love to alarm us into believing economic growth is now on a slippery slope to permanently low levels.  Everything has already been invented, baby boomers are on the decline, and productivity will never experience the kind of improvements that were seen in the 1950s.  Robert J. Gordon, Professor of Social Science at Northwestern University wrote a paper for the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) in August 2012 in advance of his book release Beyond the Rainbow: The American Standard of Living Since the Civil War.  He points out that the computer and Internet revolution has resulted in a much smaller economic impact than that of the combustion engine.  He then argues that future innovations will have a diminishing effect on economic growth because of six headwinds1.

ARM Reaching Into Server Market

ARM has become the dominant architecture in portable products.  The server market is not as large as smartphones and other portable consumer electronics in terms of unit volumes but   is growing at a fast rate.  While the volumes are relatively low, the processors in the server market carry a high price tag, in the hundreds of dollars.  Intel dominates the server market with Xeon.  This is Intel’s fastest growing product line and it has its highest gross margins.

ARM and its partners have been eyeing the server market for several years.  Expanding into servers results in a new revenue source.  The main thrust for using ARM technology in servers is the lower power consumption the architecture offers versus the x86.  It may require a multi-core and multi-socket solution to compete with Intel on performance.  Yet the ARM camp touts that it can still achieve a lower power profile, occupy less space and do this at a lower cost.

Currently, ARM is a 32-bit architecture while x86 is 64-bit.  A year ago (October 2011) ARM announced a 64-bit V8 ISA.  The chip vendors for ARM server class CPUs are Applied Micro Circuits Corp. (AMCC), Marvell, and Calxeda.  Currently, Marvell and Calxeda are supplying 32-bit ARM CPUs for servers.  AMCC has an architecture license.

Except for Work, Is the PC Age Over?

It may be tempting to say that the current shift in user trends for consumer devices is limited to a generational shift, but in reality, it's affecting our grandparents and parents as well as our children.

The shift is crossing platforms from gamers to casual users and business clients, and it's changing the types of services we purchase for our homes and how we assign value to products.

This is the shift away from the computing segment to the consumer segment. As a society we are leaving our desktops and notebooks behind and moving to smartphones and tablets. But we're not going to be a society of just smartphones and tablets, no. We're going to be a society of smartphones, tablets, and SmartTVs.

How many people do you know who have already stopped using their desktop? Do you still use your laptop for anything other than business?

The first move in this shift was when we all moved from landlines to the cellular network. During the last five years or so, many people have been abandoning their TV services and switching to cable or DSL. How many people now watch their favorite shows on services like Hulu or Netflix or Amazon Prime?

NAND Pushes Wafer Demand to 11.7% Growth by 2016

SEMI recently released their silicon shipment forecast for 2012-2014.  Total wafer shipments are expected to reach record levels in 2013 and 2014.  Semico’s Wafer Demand model concurs with their forecast.  Wafer demand is expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 11.7% over the next five years.

The wafer demand pie keeps getting bigger but all the pieces are not growing at the same rate.  The pie looks a lot different than it did 15 years ago or even 10 years ago.   The chart below presents a few of the product categories that have traditionally utilized the most advanced technologies.

Figure:  Wafer Demand by Product as a Percent of the Total Wafer Demand

Source: Semico Wafer Demand Model Sept. 2012

Wafer demand for microprocessors has grown 65% over the past 10 years, but, as a percent of the total, MPU remains at less than 3% of the total industry wafers.  To a certain extent, this is due to the production efficiencies and improved designs that the MPU manufacturers have implemented.

Future of Sensor Fusion in Computing

Intel presented new capabilities for portable computing that are enabled by sensor Fusion at IDF 2012.  Sensor fusion has been associated mostly with smartphones.  Semico wrote an article discussing sensor fusion in a recent issue of the Semico IPI Report, August 2012.

Sensor fusion is not only the integration of more than one sensor but also the fusion of the data in order to use it for applications and enhance the user experience.  Sensors are defined as having a number of axes, also known as a degree of freedom (DoF).  Accelerometers can have up to 3 axes for the XYZ coordinate space.  A gyro measures the spin or rotation on each of the XYZ axes.  A magnetometer senses the magnetic angular rate and gravity (MARG) for each of the XYZ axes.  A magnetometer and accelerometer work together to achieve an eCompass function.  These sensors provide data from which direction and speed can be determined. The key application for sensor fusion is navigation and location based services (LBS).

As noted previously, more features are coming to the ultrabook which will require sensors.  Intel had technical sessions on sensors.  Windows 8 requires a minimum of 9 DoF.  Microsoft’s development program is Windows 8 Desktop.  This enables application developers to work with touch and sensors for tablet PCs and ultrabook PCs.  Microsoft offers a Windows Sensor Framework.  The Microsoft API allows developers to uniformly access sensors across platforms.

Intel Developers Forum

Intel kicked off its annual Intel’s Developers Forum (IDF) talking about reinventing computing.  This involves collaboration to shape the future from datacenters to devices.  In prior years Intel emphasized heavily its lineup of processors, manufacturing technology and focused on consumer products.  These things were of course presented this year and ultrabooks are an important innovation that Intel is promoting.  The next generation Core CPU, Haswell, is also highly anticipated.  Nevertheless, the datacenters and cloud services played a bigger role this year.

Datacenters with servers, communications infrastructures, cloud services and security are just not sexy enough for the general public.  However, the continued growth of smartphones, tablets and personal computing is dependent on the build out and continuing innovations of datacenters to support these devices.  Security throughout this ecosystem is being addressed by Intel and was discussed in detail.

The data centers are an important business for Intel.  As noted in its most recent financial statements it is the company’s fastest growing segment and best profit margin.

Is this the Death Knell for NFC in Mobile Payments?

On September 12, 2012, Apple introduced the iPhone 5.  One of the biggest rumors surrounding the device was would it have NFC (Near Field Communications) built in.  A big reason for the rumors is that Android has supported NFC since Gingerbread was released, and the first Android NFC-enabled phone was the Samsung Nexus S which was released in December 2010.  So the iPhone is well behind Android phones in this area.

The iPhone 5 will debut with the brand-new iOS 6, which includes Passbook, Apple’s new wallet app.  This app manages information that might normally be stored in a wallet or purse, such as coupons, store loyalty cards, movie and concert tickets, airline boarding passes, and more.  It also supports payments in a limited fashion, such as Starbucks’ card that allows payment via barcode.  However, NFC was not mentioned in the product launch, so we can only assume that the iPhone 5 will not have it built in.

NFC enables mobile payments simply by touching your mobile phone to a payment terminal.  Passbook could be a sign that NFC will come to the iPhone in the future, as it gets people used to using their phone for payments and coupon management.  It is still possible that the iPhone 5 contains NFC, and we will see for sure when the teardowns roll in once the device is released.

The End of the Fitbit Experience

To wrap up this Fitbit experiment, I'd like to address some of the comments from my previous articles over at EBN Online.  So for this article, I'd like to direct everyone over to the EBN website where I hope you'll participate in the comment discussion that happened throughout the month.

Midway Through the Fitbit Experiment

I'm sitting here angrily munching on gingersnaps because the Fitbit dashboard makes me enter every single cookie separately. Or I could enter them by weight. How about I just round up to 10? Will that make you happy, Fitbit? Now I'm going to eat 10 gingersnap cookies to spite something. Probably myself.

The other day I felt dejected. OK, I was only mildly dejected, but still, there was a small nagging voice in the back of my head saying, "You only climbed 47 floors yesterday. You missed your 50 goal by just three floors. I'm ashamed of your pitiful effort."

To get revenge, I made myself jog up and down the stairs until my Fitbit flashed 50. Then, panting and sweaty, I walked over to my computer, opened Outlook, and refreshed until my 50 floor badge popped up.


Week 2 taught me that the Fitbit and I don't have a healthy relationship. Unhealthy relationships are what friends are for, so I befriended some people in my age group. Now, when I log in to the dashboard, I see our rankings on the side.

Fitbit Week One Summary

My previous article on the Fitbit introduced the product and the setup.  Day 2 was pretty active for me. I worked on demolishing my garage, went on a hike that was probably a few miles long, and tackled some insane blackberry weeds. So what did Fitbit have to say about all this activity?

Absolutely nothing, because I forgot to put on my Fitbit until after dinner. I also forgot to wear it at night for the sleep monitoring aspect.

Great. It's only Day 2 and I'm already a failure. Day 2's accomplishments included: climbing "the world's tallest sand castle" and scheduling a reminder in my phone to wear the Fitbit.

Day 3 
Today I managed to remember to keep the Fitbit on, and because I can't be trusted, I've decided to just leave it on the wristband 24/7. I have no fashion sense anyway, so it's a good tradeoff. Today, I got this in my email:

I feel special already. Later in the day I ended up getting another email, congratulating me on climbing 10 floors in one day. I might have been happier with this accomplishment if it hadn't been included with a taunt to climb 25 floors tomorrow.

What am I, a machine?

Day 4 
Yes. I am a machine.

After getting this message I did a victory lap up and down my staircase, not so much because I was proud, but because I needed to up my numbers. The dashboard is starting to control my life, and it's only been a few days.