I’m so glad we started doing these quarterly issues because it gives us the ability to look at trends over a three-month period and it also helps explain why our travel budgets are so high.
What becomes most clear in this issue is that companies are looking for new opportunities and staking out territory. The flip side of this is that com¬panies are acting like they’re ashamed of their traditional businesses—PCs, notebooks, even plain old smartphones. At Nvidia’s GTC conference, when an analyst dared to ask Jen-Hsun Huang how he planned to manage the difficult dynamics of the chip business, he snapped, “We don’t sell chips, we use a lot of chips in our business.” AMD’s Rory Read has said they are going after opportunities in custom design for new product development. So maybe some of AMD’s new product lines look a lot like AMD’s old product lines, but they’re going to pick targeted niches where they can add more customiza-tion, bring up the value, or maybe even be first in the market. And if along the way they sell a few chips for notebooks, desktops, and servers, why, he’s not going to complain, but he’s not going to hang his hopes on that business.
For both Nvidia and AMD there is emphasis on the high end and the low end of the scale. Nvidia loves scary hard number-crunching monster HPC applications. Not only are they impressive to predict hurricanes and simulate oceans, but they give great halo. Wow, if they can predict the future and build a uni¬verse in a supercomputer, they can certainly run a mean game of Stalker. On the other end of the scale, Nvidia has big ambitions for its little Tegra, which has assimilated Kepler.
AMD is stalking the high-end graphics market with a steady, but relentless, concentration on workstation graphics, HPC, remote graphics. The company’s surrounded the console market, and it’s drawing a bead on the server market. It won’t be like the last go ’round in servers, where it joined the lemming march to the bottom. The company is building custom products and appliances that take advantage of its 64-bit ARM technology.
These days the base market for PCs might still be plenty big, and stable to a fault, but it sure isn’t glamorous, and both AMD and Nvida are looking for places where they can command nice margins and long-term business. They are not alone.
Mobile still holds a hypnotic allure for manufacturers and application developers. The conventional wisdom might be that these products are very low margin and demanding, but it’s a common human failing to lose rationality in the face of a billion-member customer base. Besides, for this next boom season, companies are niche-hunting. They’re trying to see which way the crowd is going, and they’re getting out ahead of them to lure a healthy chunk of crowd in another direction.
The second quarter of 2014 is characterized by new thinking and new approaches. You’re never going to hear about anyone thinking out of the box these days. There is no box. Instead people are taking their ideas out into the streets, and sometimes it doesn’t work out so well. The real-world testing for Google Glass has probably done a lot to stimulate the development of next-generation Google Watches. The Jon Stewart show had a field day exploring the discriminatory treatment afforded to Glassholes in the wild. Information glasses are going to take a while. Even the enthusiastic fans of the technology at the AWE (Augmented World Expo) said they thought glasses are probably still five years or so out. VR glasses are even further away. But the success of wearables such as Fitbit suggests that it’s just a matter of tweaking the design. What about a nice tasteful wristwatch that can communicate with a camera lapel pin? I mean, the attack on privacy is one thing, and people might figure out that people aren’t taking pictures and video all the time. Really, the problem with glass is that you look like a self-satisfied dork with the thing on your head.
The auguries are good
It’s a good time for a crazy boom. We had the dot.com bubble, and then we had the Web 2.0 bubble. Then we had, what did we have? We had a crash that implied there was a bubble … the debt bubble. But this time, there isn’t one technology bubbling up. We have a virtual lava pool popping and boiling and just about to flow over. New car information technologies, GPS apps, augmented walking/driving/seeing apps, biosynth products, virtualization strategies, remote graphics, teeny clients/ cloudhosts, and other ideas are all floating around in that big bubbling pot, and you know what’s keeping the fire lit?
That’s right, the steady old industries everyone is too embarrassed to be in, except that they are. It’s the PC business, the mainstream mobile business, and tablets. Gartner has recently combined these segments and says their new category is going to grow to 2.4 billion units, a 4.2% increase from 2013. This vaguely named “device” market Gartner is talking about is the platform for a pretty good 2014. All the cool stuff we’ve been talking about this year is going to be built on the device platform, and much of it will still be PCs.