Beyond The CES Hype

After braving sensory overload and sorting through the products, the trends and high-resolution images, here’s what will really keep semiconductor fabs humming for years to come.

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Now that the dust has settled, it’s time to realistically assess all the activity at CES 2014. The big screen TVs, the shiny new cars and all the excitement over Internet of Things certainly dazzled the CES show floor. But how much of it is hype and what will really become sustainable products?

Smart lighting, smart refrigerators, smart cars, and a smart thermostat are all part of what is being touted as the Internet of Things. The IoT scenario goes something like this: You’re driving home from work, and a voice in your car tells you to buy some eggs because there are no more in the refrigerator. Then, when you’re five miles away, your home thermostat is activated to turn on the heat so the house is warm and cozy when you arrive. Sounds like the ideal butler and a lot of WiFi chips.

All the new fitness gadgets and home medical devices also are worth watching. Wireless medical devices that enable Aging in Place really appeal to an aging population. From Fitbits to the Neubac to thought-controlled prosthetics, medical electronics for personal use is a growing consumer segment.

Another CES item that deserves attention are the 3D printing displays. Producing toys to musical instruments to candy is just one button away. From consumer to industrial, medical and even art, the applications are endless.

So which one of these products has sustainability? I’m going to make this assessment based on my electronic gifts from this 2013 holiday. My favorite gifts included the new Sony VAIO convertible PC, the Nest and the Fitbit Force. I love them all, but my assessment of the future of these products has distinctly different market implications.

The VAIO Duo is everything I’ve wanted in a notebook. I got the VAIO Duo 13 Convertible Ultrabook with the Intel Core i7, Windows 8.1, 13.3″ Full HD IPS touch display, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD, Intel HD Graphics 4400, digitizer stylus, HDMI out, USB 3.0, and NFC. The battery life has been fantastic.

Originally I intended to use the VAIO as my business machine and keep using my tablet for reading, movies, TV, etc. All that has changed. At less than three pounds, the VAIO is so lightweight and the HD screen is so clear, I’m now using it for almost everything. I’m actually carrying it from room to room. I still use my tablet in the kitchen to display recipes while I cook and for some personal email, but other than that, this VAIO convertible is my new ‘go-to’ device.

The Nest was a necessity. My old thermostat was in dire need of an update. After three phone calls to the support desk, the heater is finally working; in other words, installation was not seamless. Unfortunately, the Nest does not fulfill my vision of IoT. Where’s the smart lighting option or the connection to my refrigerator?

I have to admit I’m addicted to my Fitbit Force. Not only am I tracking my activities, I’m also intrigued by the sleep monitoring, and I’ve started to log my food consumption. Easy updates online mean I’m checking my progress throughout the day.

They’re all great products, but they’re going into different bins in terms of product life longevity. Unfortunately, it appears the Fitbit will suffer the same death as the MP3 player and the digital camera. I replaced my watch with the Fitbit, but I suspect that soon I’ll replace the Fitbit with a smart watch that will also offer email access. The consumer wants to integrate everything into one device. Morry Marshall, a retired but still very active Semico analyst, refers to that as “lumping.” Why carry a digital camera and an MP3 player when it can all be integrated into a smartphone? All the Fitbit functions, and more, will go into a smart watch. That’ll be on my wishlist the next time I upgrade my phone.

The Nest is not really ready for prime time IoT. It doesn’t control my lights and it can’t talk to my refrigerator. But I’m not giving up on this one yet. The device eventually will become the hub for my dishwasher, lights and air conditioning. The only concern I still have is security, and I’m not sure I trust Google with all that information on my daily habits.

I believe the convertible PC is the wave of the future. Of course, screen size will vary depending on your applications. I went with a bigger screen size because of the work I do with spreadsheets, and even then I still connect to a larger monitor when I’m at my desk. But having access to a keyboard, the instant-on and the small form factor are definitely major pluses for this new machine. It’s a keeper.

So in summary, the VAIO is the winner in the “most useful” category. The Nest is the winner in the “best future potential” category. And the Fitbit is a fun toy for today but is the least likely to sustain a large market share. In the meantime, all these new CES products need more sensors, more WiFi, and more server capacity to process all the big data that’s being collected. It all means more demand for chips. Semico Research expects the convertible PC will lead to renewed growth in the PC category in 2014. These machines are very attractive and will encourage an accelerated replacement cycle. This will mean increased demand for DRAM, NAND (SSDs), and various other support chips. Fire up those fabs!