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Of forecasts and thinking about Steve

Posted: 11.03.11

We’ve just finished a round of reports, our semiconductor quarter shipments and forecast report Market Watch, our quarterly AIB shipments and forecast report, the mobile devices report, and the HPU/EPG report and forecast.

Forecasting is a tricky business and even though we’ve been at it longer than most, it never gets easy, and it’s always scary. We had some brilliant seminal moments where we called the future correctly and one or two where we missed it. Thinking about the future and what trend might happen next, or what technology will come next got me thinking about Steve Jobs.

Now not only do we have to try and predict the numbers, we have to try and predict the imaginations of the existing and soon to be suppliers of the next wave of products.

The future is right out there…

Jobs has done something for the industry and maybe humanity that I think has gone un-praised and maybe recognized—he got us to look out, to dream, and to expect excellence, maybe demand it. So I’m looking into my crystal ball and trying to figure out how much of an impact tablets and ultrabooks will have on our industry, as well as what else might evolve or be inspired by them. Jobs of course is responsible for both, first with the ultra-thin, ultra-light Air and then with the iPad. But it wasn’t just a thin & light notebook, or just a tablet, the Air and iPad were (and are) devices with style, charm, and a new user paradigm—we think differently about those devices than we did about their predecessors, and, we think and react to whole world differently because of them. In the last year, post iPod/iPad, what screen in your life have you not tried to interact with by touching it—regardless if it is a touch-screen or not?

Prior to Apple’s renaissance Sony was the trend and style setter. When we wanted Avant-garde products we looked to, or waited for Sony. Sony had no peers or even imitators that came close. Apple took the crown from Sony but instead of being just an Avant-garde product supplier, it became the model, the company every other company wanted to be. And so as quickly as their designers, engineers, and budgets would allow them, other companies began copying Apple, as best as they could. And that is Job’s unwitting gift. By delighting and exciting the consumers, Apple has raised the bar for product innovation and consumer expectation. And that makes forecasting even harder.

Will tablets cannibalize PCs, or will they expand the market. Yes and yes. But more importantly how and why? What new uses and users will there be for tablets, and when? What new form factor device will spring out of the imagination of some designer or engineer because of their experience with a tablet, smartphone, or ultrabook? What will come out of it, “Gee, you know if I could only…” And bam—a new product idea, category and maybe an industry may pop up.

You know you can’t see the future in the rearview mirror, and even that cliché is a forecast of a kind—“rearview mirrors” are going to disappear from automobiles, trucks and buses in the next couple of years and be replaced by cameras and screens with better visibility and even the ability to see things in the dark. And GPUs will power them and their screens. And not only will they see, they will remember like a DVR, a kind of trip recorder, which of course will feed the car’s journey to the web and cloud for traffic control, accident prevention, and forensics.

And what if your smrtphone and/or tablet, or Ultrabooks did the same thing? What if the devices you carry which have cameras, and mass storage, and always on web connections, and GPS, and gyros, and long batter life, recorded your life, storing it in the cloud. Think how many arguments you might win when you say, “You did too say that—here, let me prove it…” Think of the effect of an alibi in a crime case. Imagine that law enforce­ment one day requires you to have a personal record­er. Ima­gine your great grandchildren looking at you when you were their age, and then one day it’s in stereovision too.

Seem like a big leap to go from lebity-leben discrete GPUs shipped in Q3 to a personal recorder in stereovision that the police require you to carry just like a driver’s license? Not when you’re trying to forecast the future it isn’t.

It’s the future, it’s right out there…