Friday, January 6, 2012

CES 2012 and beyond

Brice Esplin

USA: The overall semiconductor outlook for 2012 is slightly positive at best, but that doesn’t mean there won’t be giant leaps in technological innovation during the next year. Markets that were strong in 2011 will continue their dominance in 2012 with moderate growth. These markets include automotive, consumer electronics, and networking systems. Companies will continue to push for smaller and more powerful systems in order to attain market share in the high profit markets. Here are just a few glimpses of what new ideas may be in store for the next year and what it could mean for each respective industry.

In less than a week, the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show will have started. Most products showcased at CES will be the first look at a new generation of electronics that will be launched throughout the year. The expo will be dominated once again by mobile phones and tablets.

Growth in this market is perpetuated by the ever improving performance that has been achieved by mobile devices. Prototypes running NVIDIA’s Tegra 3 processor will be everywhere at CES 2012 and should hit consumers hands by mid-2012. Currently, the quad-core processor is only available in a couple of tablets like the ASUS Transformer Prime, but that lineup should be expanded soon. There will be dozens of Tegra 3 powered devices announced next week, and each will have Android’s new “Ice Cream Sandwich” operating system to catch consumer’s eyes.

Ultrabooks will also be very popular at CES this year, and many companies will be debuting cheaper and more powerful models. Some experts predict that as many as 30 to 50 new models will be launched at the show in January. It is also thought that most of these upcoming Ultrabook models will feature Intel’s updated 22nm “Ivy Bridge” CPU chipset, which offers a modest performance boost over the current Sandy Bridge chips, as well as offering USB 3.0 and PCI Express 3.0. Hopefully Intel will lay out its vision for the future of ultrabooks during its keynote at CES.

Televisions have continued the trend of becoming thinner, larger, and increasing pixel density. OLED technology has allowed displays to become only as thick the pieces needed to support them. For example, LG plans to show a 55” HDTV that is only .16 inches deep and weighs 16.5 pounds. In terms of screen size, many 80” and larger behemoths will be showcased at the event.

The most popular will be the 4K televisions, which are so named because they have four times the pixel density of a standard 1080p HDTV. There is talk of both LG and Toshiba unveiling a 4K television for the public to admire. Lastly for television, the CEO of Stream TV Networks has claimed that the company has created the first 3DTV that doesn’t require glasses. Using Ultra-D display technology the television can convert 2d images into 3d format without necessitating the use of glasses.

Some of the other notable CES innovations include the Lytro camera, nest thermostat, and the HP Topshot 3d printer. The Lytro camera is set to change image capturing by using a special type of light field camera lens that allows the user to capture all available light in a scene and focus any part of the photo at a later time with special software. The most impressive part of this camera is that its price point is only at $400 and $500 dollars for the 8GB and 16GB models respectively.

The nest thermostat is a new way to approach a part of the home environment that has remained unchanged for years. The nest has an intuitive UI and wireless connectivity that allows users to have optimal control over the ambient temperature of their home. The software also claims to learn from temperature changing behaviors and adapt accordingly. Lastly, HP plans to show its elusive Topshot laserjet printer.

The Topshot printer does all the normal things a printer should such as scan, email, fax, and of course print. The innovative part of this printer is the extended arm protruding skyward that has 6 cameras and a LED flash to construct 3d images of real objects. For example an Ebay retailer could take 3D object scans to sell an item.

Beyond CES there are a few innovations on the horizon that will have long term effects. Companies such as Wilocity are working toward achieving faster internet speeds. Their latest 60GHz multigigabit chipset would revolutionize wireless speeds if manufacturers choose to adopt them within the next year. They rely on the proposed 802.11ad standard, which is the next generation of today’s 802.11n protocol.

The company’s first generation chipset can reach speeds of 4 gigabits per second with the potential to hit 7 gigabits per second later down the road. They expect that the first systems packing their chips will arrive in mid-2012. The aspect of increasing data speeds will also continue with further expanding LTE networks for mobile devices. LTE networks will soon cover almost all metropolitan areas and provide higher mobile data speeds to the masses.

Don’t expect Apple to make any huge announcements at CES this year, but rather at media events of their own or Macworld in the end of January. If Apple follows its historical process there could be an IPad 3 this spring, but with the recent A-5 factory finished in Texas it is more likely to be an IPad2s at best.

There is also the possibility of a revolutionary Apple TV product this year following the discussion of it in the biography of Steve Jobs. An Apple Television would most likely be available in late 2012 or early 2013. Finally to finish out the year the Iphone 5 everyone hoped for last year will be available around October of 2012.

In automotive electronics for 2012, the largest change will be requiring new vehicles to have Electronic Stability Control. It has been slowly adopted over the past few years but now that it is mandatory in the US the demand will be constant. In addition more MCUs will be implemented in many vehicles to control engine functions and transmission controls. Electronic control of these processes has made cars much more efficient and eco-friendly.

Vehicle manufacturers are beginning to integrate infotainment devices that were once only available in luxury cars into almost all new vehicles. These devices combine many common car devices into a single, more expensive unit that features audio integration, navigation, and climate control. Currently the technological leader is Renesas with its R-Car E1 chip.

These growth markets and consumer innovations are holding the semiconductor market steady currently. The most popular innovations at CES will shape the direction electronics take for the next year and what hot items will be produced in large quantities. Surprising consumer spending in the 2011 Christmas shopping season will motivate manufacturers and suppliers to quickly develop new products.

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