Michell Prunty is Semico's Senior Consumer Analyst.  See her bio here

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Michell Prunty's blog

Nintendo 3DS: Yes Please

I’m normally not a big fan of 3D with the gimmicky movie effects, clunky glasses, and the inevitable headache and eyestrain that comes with it. But Nintendo seems to have circumvented many of these issues with their upcoming Nintendo 3DS handheld.

At CES the N3DS was a big hit with its ability to switch between 3D and 2D, the lack of glasses, and how easy it is on the eyes (and I don’t mean the way it looks).

Admittedly, I am a bit of a fan when it comes to Nintendo. I grew up with the Nintendo Entertainment System and The Legend of Zelda. My first handheld was a Game Boy, and there is a NDS Lite sitting in my desk drawer right now.

Sony will be competing with Nintendo again this year, as they release two new handhelds. Their first handheld is the Next Generation Portable (NGP), due out by the end of 2011, though a release date hasn’t been given. Once again, Sony’s handheld will focus on power, mimicking the PSP. The NGP will be a tablet with a 5” 960x544 OLED screen. It will have a touch pad, two cameras, Wi-Fi, 3G, GPS, motion sensors, etc. It will run an ARM Cortex A9 CPU and is supposed to be as powerful as a PlayStation.

The second handheld Sony will be releasing is the PlayStation Phone (also called the Xperia Play) through Sony Ericsson. This console / phone combo will have a 4” 854x480 LCD touch screen, camera, Wi-Fi, and run on an Android platform with a 1GHz processor.

Who Needs Smart TV?

Everything these days is smart. You've got your smart phone, your smart grid, your smart car, and now your smart TV. And the question is, why? Consumers can get the same functionality with their Blu-ray players, set top boxes, and gaming consoles, etc….

And my answer, like for most technology, is why not? There is no industry standard. There is no store a consumer can go to and say, “I want to hook up my TV to the internet. What device do I need?” and not get a response along the lines of “Well, it depends on your set-up and what you want to do and how you want to do it. We have a dozen different stand-alone devices or you can use your computer or your game console….” And so on. This is confusing.

It stems from not knowing exactly what the hub is for the home entertainment system. Every company wants their own device to win this little competition, which means OEMs have no idea which device their consumers have settled on as their hub; so they might as well as add the hub capability into everything.

iPad vs. the Galaxy Tab. The Winner is… Something Else?

I’ve always been unlucky when it comes to notebooks. They never last more than a few years before their motherboard explodes, usually just a few days after the warranty expires. That’s why last year I decided to get a desktop instead. It has everything I’ll ever need (hopefully) in a computer:

  • Intel i5 CPU
  • 8 GB DDR3
  • 500 GB HDD
  • Windows 7 64-bit OS
  • NVIDIA graphics card
  • Dual monitors from Acer

In fact, the only thing my desktop lacks is mobility, which is why I keep ending up staring at the iPad display in every electronics store I wander into and why I have been obsessively reading reviews for the Galaxy Tab, stalking my local Radio Shack until they finally put one on display.

Sure, the Tab only has a 7” display, but that means I can throw it in my bag and go, unlike the iPad, which will require a larger bag though it is easier to interact with. The iPad is established with people across the board praising it and remarking how it is changing the way children interact with electronics. As a bonus, the iPad has a larger marketplace and everything is plug and play. But do I want to support something that isn’t open source?

3D Architectures for Semiconductor Integration and Packaging.

3-D integration and packaging is now well known to all in the semiconductor industry.  Today the focus has shifted away from trying to understand the technology opportunity to one of understanding the practical challenges of technology adoption and commercialization, including who is getting there first, how, and at what cost.  Many see 3-D integration and packaging as an industry inflexion point, not just an evolutionary change—thus there is a natural degree of uncertainty as companies scramble to secure market share, obtain new process and design tools, and of course, new customers and new applications.

Looking to the Future

It seems everywhere we turn, there is hype about how low 2011 will go. Our own opinion is that 2011 will be an above average growth year, rising 9.5% over 2010. Considering an average growth year for the semiconductor industry is 8% growth, 9.5% is pretty good.

Our forecast is based on our IPI (Inflection Point Indicator) which has been an accurate indicator of the industry’s ups and downs for 15 years.

For example:
The IPI declined throughout 2000 indicating the slowdown for 2001.

Beginning in the second half of 2002, the IPI increased significantly, pointing to strong growth starting in the second half of 2003.

In 2004, when the market was booming ,the IPI started to turn down, indicating a correction year in 2005.

In 2006, we saw the IPI, again, on an upward trend, which matched 2007 as a peak year.

For most of 2007 the IPI declined, pointing to a decline in the semiconductor market in 2008.

The 2008 IPI hit bottom in February 2008, which pointed to the beginning of the V-shaped recovery starting in February 2009.

So how is the IPI predicting 2011 and beyond?  Take a look at the blue line in the graph above, which predicts the pink and green line about four quarters in advance.

Extrapolating the IPI out to 2014, and we start to see that:

Low Power Color Displays Coming Soon

Right now we have two different segments for e-readers, Electronic Paper Displays, and Liquid Crystal Displays. Mainly, we can consider the two powerhouses to be the iPad with LCD and the Kindle with EPD. Personally, I’m anxiously waiting for the combo platter: the low-power color display.

The low-power screen segment has the potential to reach 1.5 billion units in 2014, up from 1 billion units in 2009.

E Ink

The main electronic paper manufacturer for E-readers is E Ink, a manufacturer of electronic paper. Since Semico released its e-reader report, there have been some updates to the market. In July, E Ink announced Pearl, the next generation in E Ink technology. While not the color E Ink screen we all want, it did provide an update with 50% greater contrast ratio than their previous screen. This lead the way for Kindle to announce their own update in August.

E ink works differently than LCDs because it relies on electrical charges to rearrange microcapsules. These microcapsules move depending on where the positive charge is, either rearranging to be on the top of the screen or bottom of the screen. This arrangement is also referred to as “shades of grey.”

E Ink

Sony PSP Conquering Other Markets

As a handheld console, the PSP in North America is on its last leg.  It has been losing market share to smart phones, Apple products, and the NDS.  But this doesn’t mean the PSP is out for the count.  As Sony recently said, “the PSP has life left in it yet.” Sony claims that right now their main market is the children’s arena, and their game line-up seconds that claim.  Its true of most handhelds, but especially for the PSP, that they are great entertainment devices while on the road.  A parent can pick up a PSP, games, and movies and be set for the entire road trip.  They might even appropriate the PSP for one of their own long trips because the screen is so perfect for viewing movies.  But only if they don’t already have a notebook, or netbook, or portable dvd player, or iPod, or smart phone, etc. And that’s part of the problem.  When the PSP first came out, it was the most advanced handheld device on the market.  Those days are long since gone.  According to Steve Jobs, the iPod Touch is now a more popular gaming device than both the PSP and NDS.  The market has dramatically changed.

E-reader Market Update

When Semico released our e-reader report, one of the predictions we made was that Amazon would introduce an updated Kindle this quarter.  They were right on track and are estimating new orders will ship September 10th.  This was a highly anticipated step, considering all the new competition and great products being introduced to the market.

The main purpose of the Kindle is to sell ebooks for Amazon, and it has been a very successful endeavor.   In order to sell more ebooks, Amazon has released a Kindle app that can work on phones, iPods, the iPad, and computers.  As this market continues to mature, publishers have become more interested in interactive books with embedded video and audio.  The Kindle app now supports these features along with Apple’s iBooks app, making cell phones, iPods, and the iPad, decent e-readers, though they lack the electronic ink display.

Apple Faces Flaws, Makes Fixes

There was a time when nothing was hipper than Apple—it had colors when others were grappling with grayscale,  a sense of style that was way out front, and mice when the rest of the world was stuck on “chicklet keyboards”—but gradually computing shifted. Due to wide adoption of the PCI bus family, the PC industry emerged from its chaotic swamp of standards and got traction. Then, smaller got better. The form factor of choice moved from the desk to the backpack. Computing in the park became a feasible release from deskbound postures and fluorescent lighting. Apple was there. And then wireless got big. PC users could untie themselves from network vines (and the attendant costs of endless cabling and switchgear). Again, Apple was in the lead, showing the world that the words “stylish” and “laptop,” and “airport” could go together well.  

TV is not Dead. Cable is.

A few years ago we ditched our cable subscription. At the time we were constantly annoyed at how often we missed the shows we wanted to watch, and were uninterested in the shows that we were available to watch. The $60 a month seemed like a waste of money –no one in my house was taking advantage of the service, so we cut it.

It was hard to leave cable behind – we learned to listen to the radio or watch DVDs for entertainment, but it wasn’t the same. Everyone tried to convince us that we should get cable again – we weren’t able to keep up with the social commentary everyone was talking about. House? Lost? Heroes? We were left behind. The only answer seemed to be getting a $200 Tivo box, a subscription, and reinstate cable –something we weren’t willing to do.

And then, when our friends and family had just about given us up as hopeless, Hulu went live. Netflix added instant streaming. NBC offered recent shows online. Boxee went live. Youtube had full episodes playing. Bravo went online. It was a fountain of culture all easily and freely available on our computer. Once again, we could follow the conversations of our peers.

The only problem was that all this great culture was stuck on our computers. We had no real way to transfer it to our 54” RPTV that was sitting unused in front of our couch that we had also abandoned in favor of the office chairs. It wasn’t a comfortable situation.