Bringing my thoughts together from International CES 2014, I was struck by the extent of diversification – chips, devices, platforms, and especially end-markets. There was, as always, a dizzying amount of information, gadgets, solutions, and futuristic dreams. But two themes really stand out as likely capturing the next phase of the semiconductor and electronics industry: diversification and collaboration.
One noticeable difference this year was how the major chip manufacturers demonstrated their latest solutions and products for a diversifying set of end-markets. It's always been a challenge for chip manufacturers to get people excited by simply displaying a tiny processor, micro-controller, memory stick, GPU, or any type of IC on its own. The excitement first comes when you can see what the person can possibly dream of doing with the latest architectures and chips – that takes a partner and a cool device.
Collaboration & diversification critical
Innovation always reigns at CES (and in high-tech in general), as does the advancement of chip solutions, but this year's collaboration between major chip manufacturers and device manufacturers of all types was everywhere – in the halls and during keynotes. Perhaps because we are seeing real attention to device diversification, or perhaps because we may be coming to an end of Moore's Law tick-tock cycles, the exhibitor halls focused on presenting a different message this year.
One example of this difference was Intel's exhibitor space, and this year's keynote address spotlight with CEO Brian Krzanich. In previous years, the Intel blue-lights greeted visitors with an abundance of gadgets, tablets, laptops, and phones as soon as you entered the Central Hall. While plenty of blue-hue surrounded us again this year, the first images and main "product" in the entrance was a car! Of course, many companies are pushing automotive solutions this year, with very good market reason; Intel put their diversification and collaboration strategy front and center in the exhibit space.
Don't get me wrong, Intel still had a dizzying amount of products using the full line of their amazing processors; but instead of the traditional computer-based showcase stacked to the roof, they were clearly demonstrating their successful ability to diversify into new markets as well, highlighting Intel's solutions to support their partners' products.
During his opening keynote, Krzanich had quite a bit to offer the audience regarding Intel's processor and solution advances. The Quark announcements such as dual-OS for computing and the related Edison's small SoC form factor to support wearable device innovation both promise real diversification options for Intel into a wider variety of mobile, wearable, and other upcoming (small form-factor) CE devices. There's going to be intense competition this year.
Qualcomm's CEO Dr. Paul Jacobs joined the opening keynote for CES FutureCast. Qualcomm's leading position in all things mobile couldn't be missed, particularly from the exhibitor splash they made this year. They moved to the Central Hall directly next to Intel – a strategic statement by itself. They competed toe-to-toe in diversification and collaboration to support innovation that is, as Jacobs commented, "driving change in critical areas such as disruptive innovation, smart cities, transportation, healthcare and the workplace."
Nvidia, also central in the competitive chip space, made a statement with their Tegra K1 SoC boasting a whopping 192 Keplar graphics cores all available for mobile platforms. Nvidia certainly knows that there is a demand for these hefty solutions to support the ever-sophisticated gaming platforms with incredible features and graphics. Their exhibit space also took this gaming angle with their collaborative solutions for partners who showcased devices that highlighted Nvidia's chips capabilities. Of course, it's not just about games, the new solutions from Nvidia show they provide amazing power and performance for mobile and that can and is being translated into the diverse set of IoT solutions (like Audi's infotainment system) that are cropping up around us. Okay, I couldn't help myself and had to mention the pre-CES news that Nvidia scooped with their crop-circle just south of San Francisco prior to the Tegra K1 unveiling.
The list goes on and on, of course, but it is worth noting a few others: Broadcom's announcements of a full suite of solutions (e.g.,AVB for the Connected Car; 5G Wi-Fi SoCs for Smart Home; five HEVC-enabled SoC for UltraHD hardware); Micron's strong position with 25nm ramping now and 20nm later in 2014; IDT's wireless power transmitter and receiver IC solutions for battery charging; and Freescale's wearables reference platform; among many others.
Positive disruption for 2014
No matter the chip or device company, the two-pronged strategy at CES 2014 was loud and clear: powerful, power-efficient, mobile chip solutions (SoCs, PiPs, SiPs, etc.) that are matched with end-device partners to reach the expanding and diversifying markets. CES 2014 showed that 2014 is going to be the year of diversification and collaboration – positive disruption is underway. This combination opens new supply chain relationships, innovative solutions and directions for chip architectures, devices, and the hardware-software collaboration that makes products unique while maximizing what the hardware can offer to improve user experiences.
While concerns still run high along the supply chain due to PC declines and the question of saturation points for smartphones, particularly in mature markets, CES 2014 again succeeded in breathing new excitement into the industry and hopefully consumers. There is more that our industry has to offer than smartphones and tablets. The growing demand from auto, health & fitness, and other newer markets through wearable technology and related solutions, is securing our industry into a much longer positive disruptive growth period with new supply chain realignments to meet the next waves of demand.
Todd Traylor is vice president for global trading at Smith and Associates.