It’s always fun to read news from the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES). This is where all the big tech companies announce their new gadgets, TVs, eReaders and smartphones. I think this year’s CES was especially interesting. I’m not good at predicting the future, but I’ll bet we’ll say in a few years that 2011 was when the electronics market landscape started to go through a 7.7 earthquake.

The feeling that I got from CES this year is
Everyone’s doing Everything.

  • Tablets, Tablets and Tablets
    Everyone is jumping into the tablet bandwagon that Apple started with the iPad. After Samsung already announced their Galaxy Tab months ago,  Motorola, RIM, Lenovo and Asus all showed their new tablets (HTC is rumored to announce one too). Customers are going to have a really bad headache choosing which tablet to buy. In other words, the vendors are going to have a hard time differentiating themselves. The hardware is going to be pretty much the same with dual-core ARM based processors, the display and size is going to be similar, so maybe software can help differentiate?
  • Windows on ARM
    Microsoft announced that Windows 8 will run on ARM. This means that processors built by TI, Qualcomm, Samsung and others using ARM cores can run Windows as well as Android. Intel and Windows was the definition of a PC for the last 15 years after Windows 95 was announced in 1995. That definition is totally breaking down. Intel is already teaming up with Nokia to run some sort of Linux on their processors, and Windows can now run on any ARM processor designed by all the mobile processor companies like TI, Qualcomm, Samsung, Marvell, Freescale and so on.
  • Nvidia’s Denver project
    To add more confusion to the PC market, Nvidia announced that they will design processors for PCs and servers using ARM cores combined with Nvidia GPUs. PC processor market was dominated by Intel and AMD for the last 20 years, and now it seems any company can license ARM cores and build PC processors that run Windows. At this point, I’m getting confused who’s doing PC and who’s doing mobile. No one company can dominate the market anymore.
  • The future of PC
    Are people going to use PCs anymore? We have smartphones and tablets with dual-core processors with as much horsepower as the processors in laptops several years ago. Maybe we will have quad-core processors in our phones 1-2 years later. Maybe these processors will be fast enough to run PC applications so that users can simply “dock” their phones on a keyboard and large display to use their phones just like a laptop (Motorola showed something like this in CES). I thought the processor and OS inside PCs were going to change, but maybe the real definition of a “personal computer” is going to be tablets or phones or both. Maybe processors are going to be in either mobiles or servers.

Market segments and the players in each segment seemed clearly defined…until this year. It seems like no one really knows what’s really going to happen in the future, so every company is hedging their bets by dipping their toe in every single market they can target.

Giants like Intel and Microsoft enjoyed huge profit margins and revenues thanks to their dominance in a super large market — not any more. They basically had a cash cow that would give them billions of dollars every year as long as they kept doing what they did — not any more. Intel didn’t need to be afraid of wasting money by making absurd acquisition decisions — not any more. Microsoft could easily waste boatloads of money launching products no one used like Kin and Zune without a blink (Bing is burning a lot of money too) — NOT ANY MORE. (follow the links to see how badly industry giants can mess up)

It’s a real pain for companies to come out of their cozy monopoly markets and engage in bloody cost-cutting wars, but customers will be very happy to get their hands on cheap, yet powerful gadgets. With everything changing so fast and everything so unpredictable, it’s an exciting time to be an electrical engineer =)

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