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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 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.

Electric Vehicles Charging Its Way to the Future

Plug-in electric vehicles are here to stay and Semico Research believes that these vehicles will be in high demand by consumers. There are many advantages that electric vehicles provide.  A lower gas bill is just the start.  They also have fewer moving parts resulting in higher reliability, a quieter motor than internal combustion vehicles, lower maintenance costs and significantly lower operational costs.

Here at Semico we already have two employees with plug-in electric vehicles. (We only have 10 employees.)  I just recently acquired a Chevrolet Volt and our CTO, Tony Massimini, purchased a Nissan Leaf. Both cars have their unique advantages and disadvantages.

The Chevy Volt is nicely designed, well put together, with a solid feel and good crisp handling. From a performance standpoint the Volt’s electric motor is comparable to a 250HP internal combustion engine with 273 pound-feet of torque.  This rating is benchmarked at all RPMs. The single speed electric motor eliminates the transmission contributing to a simpler design.

The Chevy Volt has a 16 kW battery of which 10 kW is dedicated to the all-electric propulsion.  The remaining 6 kWs is a buffer for use during the extended range mode and for redundancy to ensure long battery life.  The battery life is rated for 100,000 miles.

Smart Money in Analog

Recently Semico released a report touting the above average growth rates in the analog market as well as the healthy revenue per wafer for analog products.  Smart money is moving into power management and other analog applications which have gained in popularity in our mobile electronic world.

Over the next five years, semiconductor units will grow at a CAGR of 9.6%.  The analog market will grow at a CAGR of 10.1%.  Specific analog product categories such as power management devices will grow even faster, logging in a 13.2% CAGR over the next five years.  Companies are gearing up for this growth by offering increased fab capacity, more efficient manufacturing and innovative materials and process advances.

Although a majority of the analog products are run on 200mm and 150mm wafers, there is still a fab running 75mm wafers and of course, there is the one 300mm fab now being operated by Texas Instruments.  The flexibility of analog manufacturing is also exemplified by the fact that many of these fabs are capable of running two different wafer sizes.

MEMS Executive Congress 2011 Review: A High Growth Market

The MEMS Executive Congress (Nov 2 to 3, 2011) held in Monterey, CA was filled with optimistic and rosy views of the future for MEMS.  This year’s event attracted 225 attendees – a 25% increase.  There were companies in attendance that covered the breadth of the MEMS supply chain: MEMS vendors, manufacturing equipment, materials suppliers, modeling, tools, etc.  Large and small players alike were represented.

Semico Research presented on the panel featuring market analysts.  The consensus on the panel and by many in the audience is that MEMS is a high growth market being driven by high volume applications in consumer electronics, most notably smart phones.  Semico brought a fresh new perspective.  MEMS are becoming more main stream.  The market dynamics for MEMS will more closely resemble the rest of the semiconductor market.  The high volume consumer market is a commodity market.  Therefore, the MEMS market needs to develop a more cohesive ecosystem.  This would allow companies to leverage standard processes and tools for volume production.  This will reduce costs and speed up time to market.

Free Forecast PDF Download

As we head into November, Semico's forecast of a weak second half is showing to be accurate. June, July, and August all had poor performance and according to the IPI, we will see that trend continue into 1Q12. February of 2012 is still forecasted to be the bottom as OEMs are currently burning off inventory while foundries cut back on capital expenditures.

This month, we are making a section of that report available to you as a free download.  Included in the White Paper is our IPI chart along with a section of the Mobile Devices: Analog discussion.  We invite you to download this free informative report, and contact Jim Feldhan with any questions about our forecast.

Semico Forecasts 2011 Revenues will be Down 1.4%


Remembering Steve Jobs and the Apple II

In the last few days, many articles have been written about Steve Job’s contributions.  They tend to focus on recent product introductions, the iPod, iTunes, the iPhone and the iPad.  Those are sensational products; but, in my opinion the authors’ memories are too short.  The articles do not give proper recognition to Steve Job’s first big hit, the Apple II.

In 1978 I was working for EMM Semi, a pioneering 4K SRAM manufacturer.  Yes, 4K!  In June of that year I went to the National Computer Conference in Anaheim, Ca.  It was a big iron show.  The main hall featured exhibits by IBM and the Seven Dwarfs, (Burroughs, Control Data, General Electric, Honeywell, NCR, RCA and Sperry Rand) as well as minicomputer manufacturers such as Digital Equipment Corp. and Data General.  Microcomputers were only allowed, very grudgingly, in a much smaller, dingier hall across the street.  None of the big iron people thought microcomputers were a real market.

I remember counting something like one-hundred-forty small microcomputer manufacturers at that show.  Because almost every microcomputer manufacturer had a proprietary operating system, there were nearly as many operating systems.  The Wintel partnership was far in the future.