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The State & Future of the Global Electronics Market

At EDS 2014, Dale Ford, vice president of IHS Technology, offered some eye-opening predictions, particularly for the consumer electronics market, in his presentation, “The Big Picture, Ideas, and Opportunities.”

At EDS 2014, Dale Ford, vice president of IHS Technology, offered some eye-opening predictions, particularly for the consumer electronics market, in his presentation, “The Big Picture, Ideas, and Opportunities.”

“We’re going through dramatic change, and that change is accelerating from being an intelligent device to being a networked device – and it’s generating a lot of data,” says Ford.

Of his many prognostications, Ford discussed the inevitable zettaflood of zettabytes. What exactly is a zettabyte? A zettabyte is 1021 bytes, or the informational equivalent of 200 billion DVDs. In 2011, the total amount of unique information generated was the equivalent of a single zettabyte. By 2016, Cisco estimates that global IP traffic will reach 1.3 zettabytes per year.

According to Ford, the big picture technology revolutionizing our world is part of the “CE 3.0” transition that is pushed by a number of product categories, including, but not limited to, smartphones, tablets, wearable electronics, the Internet of Everything (IoE), the cloud, smart homes, 3D printing, and solid state lighting.

CE 3.0 by the numbers:

  • Of the 1.6 billion mobile phones produced last year, one billion were smartphones.
  • By 2017, 70 percent of all PCs will fit into the “ultra thin” category, completely replacing the notebook as we know it.
  • The broad spectrum of wearable technologies “shows the many different applications in an exciting, high growth sector,” including smart clothing, smart watches, fitness accessories, and more. Wearables represent a $10 billion industry from 105 million units today. Ford predicted 215 million units by 2015 in a market segment that is estimated to grow into a $43 billion segment by 2018.
  • All devices with a display will grow by a 40 to 50 percent share.
  • By 2018, 175 million devices will be wireless.
  • Smart watches, which sold 33 million units in 2013, will grow to nearly 100 million units by 2018. Ford stresses that while early smart watch reviews have been brutal, we “need to remember that these are first generation devices.” 

As Ford moved on to the ever elusive Internet of Things (IoT), he described a drastically bigger vision that goes well beyond M2M communications and what is currently happening in the industrial space. “Nothing is safe from the influence of electronics,” Ford says. “The future of the digitally connected world includes millions of apps, billions of devices, and trillions of sensors.”

The forecasted growth includes 50 billion IoT units installed by 2025, these are connected devices that collect data, offer access to data, provide complex analytics, and unique value. All of this information will be housed in the cloud, which Ford says “will revalue and touch everything.”

The cloud will eventually take all data types, store it in various places, and on various devices. This potential for fast, large volumes of a wide variety of data is “an entirely new scientific frontier.” We may not have a steadfast solution in place now, but at least we have a term coined (Big Data). Now all the industry needs is to find a way to move beyond buzzwords and monetize the potential.

According to Ford, potential losers during this transition includes hardware-centric device OEMs without a cloud service strategy. “If your designs have not anticipated [the cloud], you’ll be in trouble,” Ford adds. 

Towards the end of his presentation, Ford briefly discussed additional, but more nascent markets that have the potential to grow exponentially in the coming years.

  • Smart cities, particularly the visions driven by Cisco, IBM, and Siemens show potential.
  • 3D printing was 2014’s hot topic, but remains unproven in the consumer marketplace.
  • Flexible displays are poised for growth due to the expected boom in the wearables industry.
  • Growth in the automotive industry will be pushed by visible infotainment systems and enabled by lowered costs, increased demands, and government mandates (such as rear-end cameras).
  • LED lighting is on the cusp of mass consumer adoption.

According to Ford, as the pace of innovation quickens it becomes difficult, and nearly impossible, to cover all of the new markets that pop up along the way. What I find most exciting is that this innovation is not achievable without the design engineer. Sometimes when analysts and executives become mired in stats, it’s a little too easy to forget the bright minds in cube farms across the globe that make it all possible.

What’s your take? Email [email protected] with questions and comments.