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Activision, Disney, Hasbro Ignite New NFC Market

Hello, my name is Adrienne, and my son is a video game addict.  He’s only 8, but he loves games for iOS devices, the Wii, Xbox 360, and online Flash games.  But the game that has inspired the most “gotta-have-it” mania, and the most dollars leaving our pockets, has been Skylanders.  If you’re the parent of an 8-10 year old boy, you probably just groaned in sympathy as you read that last sentence.  If not, then here’s the short version of what has become Activision’s latest $1 billion game. Skylanders is a video game that is playable on all the different platforms (with the appropriate software), but it’s the real-world collectible component that has really taken off.  Skylanders is played with a platform onto which a player can put their character, and that figure comes to life onscreen.   The platform has a wired or wireless connection to the game console, and the figure has an NFC connection to the platform.  Each figure remembers any points or achievements it earns, so that it can be taken to a friend’s house and played there. Skylanders has taken the “toys to life” category to a whole new level.  It passed the $1 billion worldwide retail sales mark in 15 months, with half of those sales in the U.S.

TransferJet and Wireless Charging Toshiba Style

At CES Toshiba announced the industry’s first microUSB Adaptor Module for the TransferJet standard.  Production will begin March 2013 and will be targeted for smart phones, tablets, and the PC peripheral market.

The astounding thing about TransferJet is that it can transfer a one-minute HD movie in about three seconds, and it takes about two minutes to transfer a full DVD sized movie.  At CES they had a few demos showcasing how easy TransferJet is to use between tablets, smart phones, cameras, and notebooks.  Basically, you simply pick the data you want to transfer, tap the two devices together (after each device gives permission), and voila.  Done.  It really does take just a few moments before you’re able to watch the video on a completely new device.

The rate of transfer is about 375Mbps, which is about 8X faster than WiFi, and about 1000x times better than NFC.  For security and functional reasons, the data transfer only works up to 5 centimeters before the devices are disconnected.  The farther the devices are from one another, the slower the transfer speed.

Semico recently released an NFC report and had this to say about TransferJet:

See Me, Touch Me, Move Me at CES

As expected, the recent Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nev., was dominated by gadgets. Touchscreens and inertial motion were key features for many devices and applications. Many of these gadgets, such as those for fitness and wellness, are intended to be used with smartphones, tablets, and PCs, usually connected wirelessly via Bluetooth or WiFi. The smartphone seemed to be the platform of choice for accessing devices via apps.

How significant is the growth of MEMS sensors in consumer electronics? The MEMS Industry Group held a half-day technical session Tuesday morning. There were panels discussing Indoor Navigation, Digital Displays, and MEMS for sound and signal quality. Klaus Meder, president, Bosch Automotive Electronics, gave the keynote at this session. Bosch has been the leader in automotive MEMS. With the growth of MEMS in consumer electronics, Bosch is increasing its focus on the sector. Bosch sees the main drivers for MEMS as magnetometers, gyroscopes, accelerometers, pressure, and microphones. In the future, humidity may become another important MEMS sensor.

Crushing on PNI Sensor Corp

I'd love to give an unbiased review of SpacePoint, PNI's 9-axis motion tracker module for games, but I can't.  At CES they were demoing their motion tracking module with a gun controller and a first person shooter custom game.  They put that controller in my hands, and as I leaned forward, my avatar moved forward.  As I leaned backward, my avatar moved backward.  The pointing technology was accurate, and very responsive.  I was in love almost immediately.

See, their pointer technology is the most accurate I've experienced for a pointer controller.  I could point the controller in an intuitive manner, and it aimed at and hit the right targets with little drift.  Given a bit more practice, I doubt there would be any drift at all, a hypothesis I’m more than willing to test out (was that too strong of a hint?).

But this is basically tech that anyone will be able to pick up and use accurately. Their demo included a gun controller with a joystick next to the trigger to make looking around within the game environment super easy and intuitive.  Forward and backward movements are done by slightly leaning forward or backward, something that anyone could easily take to.

I can see something like this being very popular with friends who want to play Halo together, and I hope someone in the future makes a controller like this that could work with Tribes (a flying game).

Is Nanotechnology a Wellspring of Innovation or a Blind Alley?

It’s that time of the year when everyone recaps what occurred during the current year and looks forward to possible developments and trends for the coming year. Dr. Wally Rhines, CEO of Mentor Graphics and industry luminary,  posted an article in EETimes on 11/28/12 looking at previous advances in the semiconductor industry and how, if these trends continue, they might impact our industry looking 40 years out in time. Dr. Rhines brought some amazing metrics to light:

We Are All Fitness Fanatics

For most of 2012 Semico has focused on how new data is driving the consumer industry.  This isn’t just for servers or cloud storage, but also for smart phones, tablets, etc.  New ways of interacting with our devices, like augmented reality, are becoming increasingly more available to the average consumer, and our current phones are more powerful than most computers were just a few years ago.

With all this advanced technology surrounding us, its no wonder that we’re moving back to the basics… of a sort.  Self improvement is the next driving force behind innovation, and we’re already seeing some quite popular products hitting the market.  All of these new self improvement products are really just new display options for infographics, enabling us to personalize our obsession with data.

Of course, the new fitness craze isn’t just for people looking to improve our health care.  We’re gravitating toward fitness products so we can understand our bodies and how the environment affects us.  There are a million and one questions that data mining our every day lives can answer.

Offensive Innovation versus Defensive

As the world continues to fancy smart phones and tablets the notebook market appears to be falling into limbo. Many people believe that smart phones and tablets are the only future for computing devices and that the notebook is a dying product even with its new make-up, i.e. Ultrabook or ultraportable.

At the beginning of 2012 there was much excitement around the introduction of a new form factor called Ultrabook married with Windows 8. At Semico we were also excited about this new platform and expected computer manufacturers to take the general guidelines set forth by Intel and innovate off of them to create an exciting new computing platform. As the year progressed, Windows 8 was delayed and innovation in the design and implementation of the ultraportable lacked creative and critical thinking by designers.

PC manufacturers have taken a defensive posture trying to protect their market share and pricing structure of the computing market versus taking an offensive approach by offering innovative designs. It appears that most computer manufacturers lack the understanding of the consumer and how their usage model has changed as a result of smartphones and tablets. PC manufacturers have taken some of the smartphone and tablet innovations but are only incorporating them in bits and pieces and not embracing them in their totality. We believe this is a major mistake and one reason why we see a slower adoption rate for these new platforms.

Akustica High Definition MEMS Microphones Aimed at Smartphones

On November 28, 2012 Akustica announced a new family of high definition (HD) MEMS microphones.  There are 4 versions with two analog and two digital and a top and bottom port for each.  The company touts the new microphone family’s high signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) of 63 dB, super wideband frequency response, and tightly matched +/- 2dB sensitivity. Akustica’s HD MEMS microphones are drop in replacements for most of the commonly used MEMS microphones.  The company is offering a wide audio range up to 7KHz when transmitting, but it can record with a wider range of 14KHz.  A key point is that Akustica offers top port versions.  This is a new packaging technology from Akustica.  Other top port microphones have lower performance than a bottom port microphone.  Akustica’s top port has the same performance as the bottom port version.  A bottom port microphone requires a hole in the PCB or flex circuit for mounting to the case.  A top port mounts on the other side of a board and is directly against the case.  According to Akustica customers are willing to pay a premium for a top port microphone if it can offer this level of performance.

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.

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