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The All-Electric Nissan Leaf, the Perfect Urban Car?

Last week I took a ride in a friend’s new Nissan Leaf, which may be the perfect urban car. It has adequate performance and can more than keep up with traffic, even on the Interstate. It is essentially noiseless. Its range is limited, but more than adequate for trips around a city. It has a quite spacious storage capacity. Best of all, it’s pollution free. The only thing that’s missing is the “zoom.”

What is zoom? It’s a sleek, sexy body style - maybe a coupé or convertible. It’s the sound of an engine howling toward a 7,000 rpm redline. It’s carving a corner and hitting the apex exactly. It’s braking as late as possible while double-clutching to downshift, turning-in at the right point and then maxing the exit speed. It’s 0 to 60 in less than 5 seconds. It’s the thrill of pretending you’re a racer. It’s the ego trip of posing as a rugged outdoor 4WD dude. It’s the promise of getting the girl. Until now, zoom is what has sold cars, but we don’t need zoom any more.

My friend doesn’t care about zoom. He doesn’t do drag racing starts or road racing corners. He doesn’t go off-road. He’s married. He already got the girl a long time ago. What he wants is reliable, comfortable, economical transportation. Because he cares about ecological issues, a green car with low carbon emissions is a bonus. He’s a good representation of an average car buyer, but he’s ahead of the pack.

Samsung and the Future

MobileNations did a great video touting Samsung's Smart Window.

As Joanne said, CES was all about the touch screen display - and yes, its very minority reportish.  Putting this one on my wish list.

Battle of the Digital Ecosystems

This year's CES had a few themes to take away, but the one that seems to define the rest is that the old model is dead. We are firmly at a new frontier of technological development, and whatever new age we're entering, it's being shaped by Apple Inc.  Everyone else seems to still be struggling out of the rigid digital ecosystem developed in the 1980s.

For example, Kurt Smith, a VP of Verizon Communications Inc., believes a mature supply chain requires three levels: the content creators/manufacturer, the distributer, and the retailer -- for no other reason than that's the way it's always been done.

Verizon is already behind. This is a lag built upon a generational gap that we can only vaguely understand. For those of us who didn't grow up with the Internet, the texting of the newer generation is confounding. Worse, today's toddlers are using iPads in the cradle, so in 10 years the gap will be even larger and more confusing.

And yet, the majority of the panel sessions at CES were filled with old white men. I saw no minorities on the panels. There were two women in the sessions I attended, one older woman who wasn't even familiar with the panel she was moderating, and another who seemed more afraid of technology than anything else, a disturbing lack of diversity that didn't reflect the audience in any way.

On the show floor, it was shown just how this disparity is playing out.

CES 2012: It Is All About Motion, Touch and Sound

As usual, CES was huge and overwhelming …too much to see, too little time.   Actually there may have been enough time, but my feet gave out before I could get to everything.  The Qualcomm booth wasn’t really a booth; it was a mini-city with 2-story briefing rooms.   From what I did see, the big trend in consumer electronics this year will be in touch, voice and motion sensing.   All the same products were on display, i.e. TV’s, tablets, and smartphones, they’re just doing a lot more than they did last year.

It all started for me at the Qualcomm morning keynote.   Banking on a commitment from Microsoft, Qualcomm is supporting Windows 8 along with ARM technology.  Their move into the x86 arena was showcased on stage with a demo tablet powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon S4 running Windows 8.  Furthering Qualcomm’s expansion into the home, Lenovo showed off their SmartTV powered by Snapdragon with voice activated remote control.  Can they truly get an instant on device?

Walking the floor there were many booths displaying motion sensing software.  Soon our online shopping experience will be improved as we virtually try on clothes using motion sensing devices that allow us to view the item’s fit as well as the color.

CES Mainly Evolutionary

Generally I would say that my observations drew me to the conclusion that most of what was at CES this year was improvements on existing products technologies.  That is I didn’t see anything that was totally revolutionary.  There were two announcements made at keynote speeches that I found quite intriguing.

Qualcomm CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs gave the opening keynote speech on Tuesday, January 10th.  During his presentation he invited Liu Jun, President of Lenovo mobile internet and digital home group on stage for an announcement from Lenovo.  Jun proceeded to demo his company’s SmartTV that is being powered by Qualcomm's snapdragon SoC. The TV is currently only available in China but what I found interesting was that Lenovo was expanding its product line into the consumer’s living room. It’s also a feather in Qualcomm's hat, as it expands Qualcomm's market penetration into televisions.

Several hours later at an afternoon keynote speech Intel’s CEO Paul Otellini also brought out Liu Jun, from Lenovo for an announcement. Liu Jun proceeded to announce that Lenovo would be producing a smart phone powered by Intel's atom. Yet another market that Lenovo is continuing to expand into.  And what a great win for Intel.  They've been targeting the atom processor for smart phones and now they not only have Motorola, an established player in the cell phone market, but they also have a partner with a built in connection to the China market.

The Agony of Digital Rights Management

The semiconductor industry likes to think it doesn't have to worry about software or Digital Rights Management (DRM). I'm often told "those things will work themselves out on their own."

But the truth is, DRM defines how a user will interact with technology. And it defines how different devices are able to communicate. Can you play that movie you downloaded on your tablet, smartphone, or TV? That's DRM, and it's also the digital ecosystem from a consumer's point of view.

One of the themes from this year's Consumer Electronics Show was that we've moved beyond devices. Moore's Law has ensured that we've reached an age where one notebook or another is pretty much the same. So the struggle for the hearts of consumers is now about convincing them which ecosystem, or user interface, is the best for them. That will decide what phone they buy, which TV, which tablet, etc. And all of this is built upon DRM.

So what did CES tell us about DRM? That it's going to be a long, hard battle for our rights as consumers during the next five years. I say this, not because anyone at CES told me, but because of how the security sessions went. Led by a Department of Homeland Security moderator, the mobile security panel showed that they're afraid of technology, and that their solution to all the security problems out there is to tether us more firmly to the grid. Every step you take will require authentication.

Is Amazon Burning Apple with Kindle Fire?

In the closing days of 2011 it was reported that Amazon’s shipments of Kindle Fire were stronger than expected. It was launched in mid-November. By the end of 2011 Amazon announced about 4 million Kindles were shipped in December alone, of which more than half were the Fire. Amazon has not yet released official end-of-year results. The Kindle Fire is estimated to have shipped between 4 and 5 million units in its debut. According to Amazon “Kindle Fire is the #1 best-selling, most gifted, and most wished for product across the millions of items available on Amazon.com since its introduction 13 weeks ago.“

Has this hurt Apple iPad2 sales in 4Q 2011? There are some reports that Kindle Fire took away 1 to 2 million units of potential sales from Apple. However, Semico views this as just speculation at this point. There have been no official statements from Apple on results of this most recent quarter. The company had not made any definitive statements on sales projections for Apple iPAD2 for the quarter. In light of the fact that the tablet PC market is still relatively new and we experienced various supply chain disruptions due to earthquakes and floods, one could not expect otherwise.

Cold and Rainy Weather at Semicon Japan Does Not Dampen Industry Enthusiasm

Last week I attended my first Semicon Japan.  This is typically one of the largest Semicon events, but considering the lull in equipment sales since this summer combined with the Japan earthquake in March, I was uncertain what to expect.  Seating at the opening keynote and welcome presentations were standing room only, but the foot traffic on the show floor was far from overwhelming.  (Even during the peak lunch hour, a SEMI aficionado directed me to some delicious food booths with essentially no lines.  I wish I could get those yummy noodles at Moscone during Semicon West.)

There was still a lot of talk relating to the earthquake impact and recovery but overall the mood was upbeat.  On the advanced technology front, vendors are preparing for more 450mm activity.  TSV and the move to FinFET transistors are providing plenty of opportunities and challenges for equipment and material suppliers.  Add to that a host of More Than Moore innovations for the mature fabs, and the topics for discussion were abundant.

Accelerating Adoption of MEMS Timing

Recently there have been two major announcements in the MEMS (microelectromechanical system) oscillator market. Market leader SiTime breaks into high-precision OCXO timing with Stratum 3 compliant solutions; and Integrated Device Technology Inc. (IDT) jumps into the MEMS oscillator market with a piezoelectric MEMS resonator.

Is It Time to Ditch Your Cable?

If you've read any of my previous articles, you know I'm not a big fan of cable. So my short, biased answer to the question at the top of this article is yes. The more convoluted answer is "Probably, if you're willing to test out some hardware."

Luckily, even though there still isn't a "plug and play" system that fits 100 percent of our needs, the cable-free landscape is improving almost daily.

These changes in the landscape are due in part to the increased interest in mobile technology. Total OEM revenue from mobile devices is set to top $565 billion by 2015, with consumers flocking to smartphones, notebooks, and tablet PCs. The main factor in this growth is broadband access. Silicon Image Inc. expects its mobile HD technology (MHL) to be incorporated into 200 million mobile devices by the end of 2012. That's a lot of high-definition streaming, from mobile devices to TVs.

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