Device Adequateness

2016 could be a boring year because the industry and the products it produces have all become adequate. The only way out is by taking risks.

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There is a growing chorus of people who are saying that 2016 will be, quite frankly, a boring technology year. They talk about no new or exciting products coming along. They talk about a lack of imagination, a lack of new product categories and quite a few failed categories from the past couple of years, such as wearables. It all comes down to the fact that products have not managed to make us wonder how we lived without a certain feature or capability and how much better our lives will now be once we acquire the new gizmo. While wearables seemed to hold promise, they have seen little traction outside of the fitness market, although there is still long term hope for them in the broader medical space.

Most of the recent developments have been incremental improvements over what was there before, but none of them change the way we think about them as devices. It happened with the desktop first. We reached a point where it did everything that a normal person would need, and I can’t think of a single ‘must-have’ feature that has been introduced over the past 10 years. I don’t need more processing power. I don’t need more memory and I don’t need more connectivity. OK, I do need more storage, but that is about it. For some, this may not have been the case – particularly for the gaming community that continues to seek better graphics capabilities, but I rarely ever hear about people overclocking a system these days. Interfaces also have become faster, but not in a way that it will make me buy a new machine.

It’s the same with cell phones. A new color, a larger screen – but not so large that it no longer fits in a pocket. Perhaps there is an opportunity here for the apparel industry to align with the technology industry and work out how to incorporate larger pockets. This would be particularly tricky for women’s clothing that only incorporates tiny pockets in the front. In fact, most women have to resort to placing them in their back pockets. A cell phone does not require large amounts of processing power if it can gain access through the radio interface and tap into cloud resources. I have only downloaded a few new apps in the past year and I can’t think of any reason why these would not have been available in the past, except that they just hadn’t been written. The only reason I bought a new phone was that the battery was no longer good at holding charge.

Smart TVs are a really dumb idea. I was conned. I bought one and it is the dumbest piece of half-baked technology I have ever owned. Save your money, buy a dumb TV and a Roku or similar type device. This is a much cheaper solution that allows independent upgrade. This is one example of continued integration being a bad idea. We have heard for so long that integration is good for us and provides better, cheaper and faster products. That’s not always true, and we are beginning to signs of this no longer being the case for semiconductor chips either.

I have enough pixels in my camera (always room for better glass), will not buy products that force me into buying a monthly service that adds no value, or promises to be the gateway to incredible home automation capabilities until someone defines a reason why I need one. At this point my router and WiFi are perfectly capable of providing the connectivity I need and, yes, I have recently bought a WiFi connected thermostat for my home.

Is the industry really going to rely on weakened batteries, dropped, lost or stolen products, or even the lack of reliability in advanced semiconductor technologies that we can expect from consumer grade electronics to generate a replacement cycle?

The devices I own are adequate. To make me willingly replace them, there has to be something considerably better, or different, or unique. This clashes with recent corporate culture, which has become risk-averse. Risk directly relates to testing new ground, putting something into the market that has not been tried before. It is much easier to copy what everyone else is doing.

With the wave of corporate consolidation, I also see the industry becoming worried about the future. Technology scaling is not going to provide any easy answers from this point on. It will still provide tremendous value to certain products and certain companies, but most companies are going to have to make do with what they have. The underlying semiconductor technology has also become adequate.

If 2016 is anything but boring, it will be because people start to think outside the box and get creative again. Integration is no longer the right mantra for the industry and if 2.5D and 3D ICs take off as some expect, silicon disintegration and package integration could be the next wave. I hope I am wrong about having nothing to buy over the next year. I like buying new toys. But there has to be a good reason to justify them.



  • realjjj

    The year is not as boring.
    In phones A72 is it.
    Give this device 2 seconds of real attention – Xiaomi Redmi Note 3 Pro with 5.5.inch 1080p, SD650 (2xA72 at 1.8GHz plus 4xA53), 2GB RAM,16GB NAND , 16MP and 5MP cams, dual SIM, fingerprint, metal body.
    It retails in China for just 999CNY (152$), that level of performance at 150$ is very exciting and this device is just the first in a new wave. A72 based SoCs could revive the mid range this year in a huge way as long as marketing does it’s job. Might not be exciting for you because you spend 700$ on a pocket PC but most people don’t do that.
    In PC gaming there is HBM, GDDR5X and 16ff. Some might even pay crazy prices for VR while the high end monitors market has lot of life in it lately with many new sizes, new ARs,curved, high refresh rates,, variable refresh rates. AMD has Zen in Q4 and should offer more than 4 cores at sane prices with no die wasting GPU.Also in PC, M.2 x4 SSDs are reaching more reasonable prices. NAND in laptops has close to 40% penetration in corporate but maybe 15% in consumer. If laptop makers wouldn’t try to milk it for higher margins, the penetration could rise fast. Over 60% of laptops ship with screens bellow FHD even if the cost difference is maybe some 10$. 4k in laptop should rise and prices might get better,maybe 4k tablets gain some traction too.
    With 8k TVs shipping, should phone cams fill those pixels? Won’t be easy and there are lots of other problems with cams. Rolling shutter,motion blur, low light perf, lack of optical zoom and does the flash need to be just 2 dumb LEDs. Who knows, maybe InVisage is ready to amaze us check the 2 pics in their latest blog post.
    Wif ad has potential for many new cool things. Maybe we see things like the Moto Atrix laptop dock but using wifi ad to connect so the phone stays in the pocket. Same for Asus Padfone like tablet “dock”. In TV you could do a very different take on the entire thing. Some in China are putting the SoC in the audio bar or just a TV box, to make upgrades easier and run just one cable to the TV (plus the power cable ofc). One could replace that cable with wifi ad. Then maybe sell a tablet like device running on the TV’s SoC (to reach a much lower price) and market it as an in home portable TV. The single TV box in the household could run all the TVs, big or portable. The so called portable TVs could also be used as a second screen and as remotes. Medium term you take over home automation with the TV box too and all types of computing and gaming. There, i just revolutionized TV (lol) and took over the entire home.
    Watches need Android Wear to be open source and available to small OEMs that would push prices bellow 100$. It’s a developing world, some corporations just keep forgetting that, people will never pay 200-300$ on a watch. they can’t they won’t and good for them , rational consumers are not a bad thing.
    Maybe not this year but hopefully soon enough foldable screens with reasonable implementations and sane prices will make phones and tabs very exciting again , sure will hit the PC hard.

    Sure, product design is something folks just can’t do for some reason i will never understand but ,as bad as that is, this year is plenty fun.
    In the end , it’s not hard to take anything and make it significantly better but the system doesn’t work like that and device makers are afraid to take risks, very greedy and it all moves 3 times slower than it should. Regulators being toothless doesn’t help either.