Looks like Patty and Rob are on another adventure. Let’s look in ….
Patty had been driving the same 2001 Saab station wagon since college. It had been a great car, but, with almost 200,000 miles on it and its outdated safety features, perhaps it was time for a change. Both her and Rob’s parents had been bugging them about getting a new, safer vehicle for a while. Finally, for her birthday, both sets of parents chipped in to give her a significant down payment on a new car. They even suggested which specific car she should get. It was a car with one of the best safety records, not an insignificant concern for doting grandparents. The manufacturer has a goal of no deaths in its automobiles by 2020.
As Patty and Rob went shopping, they were overwhelmed by the features that 2016 autos have. Detections of cars in the “blind spot,” warnings when the car leaves the lane, warnings and prevention from backing in to something, reading the speed limit signs, pairing to smartphones, the internet, and on and on.
“Patty, these aren’t cars; they are computers that you can drive,” Rob commented.
“Actually this car has 13 computers,” the salesperson chuckled.
“What is the soonest we can take the car home?” Rob asked, expecting it to be 3 or 4 days.
“You can take it home in an hour,” the salesperson affirmed.
In an hour, Patty and Rob were driving home in their new car, amazed at its capabilities as a “computer on wheels.”
“Rob, look at this. As we pass the speed limit sign, the speed limit is shown on the speedometer,” Patty exclaimed in amazement.
They stopped in their driveway and played with the car’s features for 30 minutes, streaming music from their smartphones, connecting to the internet, and changing many modes on the dashboard display. It was more fun than their first time playing with a tablet.
Figure 1. Patty and Rob’s new car has 13 computers
Two days later, it was Monday and Patty, Rob, and Pete had been asked to see the Professor for a brainstorming session. Recently, as Patty’s career had skyrocketed, she had been working with the Professor less and less. The trio agreed to meet in Patty’s office so they could head over to the Professor’s office together.
“Hey, this is just like old times!” Pete exclaimed.
“I agree,” added Patty, “I miss some of the adventures we used to have.”
The professor welcomed them in.
“I hope all of you had a chance to review the material on the many links that I sent you,” the Professor began.
They all murmured that they had.
They reason I asked you to come is that I am going to be interviewed on national television, The topic is, ‘The Death of PC, Tablets, and Smartphones.’ I thought you all might be able to help me prepare.
They all though in unison, “Us help the Professor prepare?!”
“What are your thoughts on the ‘Death of the PC,’” the Professor asked his humble mentees.
“One of the links you sent has shows PC sales declining,” Rob said.
Figure 2. PC sales peaked around 2011 and have been declining since then.
“But, do you think it portends the end of PCs?” the Professor asked.
“This is something I have thought about ever since you sent us the links. I think the ‘death of the PC’ people are missing some key points,” Pete replied.
“Such as?” the Professor encouraged.
“When I was a teenage we got an IBM PC XT. It had a 10MB hard drive. We replaced it in three years,” Pete began.
“Why did you replace it?” Patty asked.
“It didn’t have enough memory or processor speed for the new games. The new PC had a 200MB hard drive. We kept that one for about 3 more years and the cycle repeated,” Pete answered.
“And what about today?” the Professor asked.
“My parents have a six-year-old computer. They recently complained they needed to upgrade it because the audio plug is worn out, some keys on the keyboard are intermittent, and it doesn’t have enough USB ports. No problem with the memory; it has 6GB of RAM and a 250GB hard drive,” Pete answered.
“So, it did not run out of memory or computer speed?” the Professor asked.
Patty interrupted, “I remember the Professor and I talking about ‘the constancy of memory metrics’. The argument was that a photo is about 1MB, a song 5MB and a movie about 5,000MB. These metrics are approximately constant. Initially, the size of these metrics overwhelmed early computers, but now these memory metrics are small compared to the capability of current technology. The impact was that early computers had to be changed often, because people wanted to store more photos, songs, etc., but now, with computers having 1TB of memory, getting a new computer for this reason is not so compelling.”
“Maybe with the exception of some new video games, but admittedly this is a small part of the market,” Rob added.
“Well, is the PC market dying then?” the Professor prompted.
“No way!” Pete jumped in. All of us use our PCs for hours each day. Am I the only one longing for my PC when I answer an email from my smartphone?” Pete asked.
They all chuckled.
“So, it seems that we are concluding that, today, the performance requirements for PCs, mostly laptops, have leveled off and upgrades are needed less frequently. These upgrades are often driven by mechanical failures such as connectors and keyboards, not necessarily the need for more memory or faster processor speed. It is natural then to expect sales of PCs to level off and even go down some as, in addition to these points, the market has reached saturation. Everyone who needs a PC has one,” the Professor summed up.
“Yeah, and the 238.5 million sold last year is not really small potatoes,” Rob added.
“What about tablets? Are they going away?” the Professor asked with a mischievous smile.
“Again, the data show a downward trend, but I’m not a believer that they are going away either,” Pete commented.
Figure 3. Tablet sales are declining.
“I think a similar thing is happening here,” Patty mused. “Tablets are so powerful that there just isn’t an incentive to purchase one frequently. We have an iPad II that we bought in 2011 that we still use, although it doesn’t run some of the newer games.”
“And they sure are popular with our boys. We have to limit the time they spend on them,” Rob added.
“What about people using large smartphones instead of tablets?” Patty asked.
“That has definitely cut into tablet sales. Some of the new smartphones are so big that they are almost comical. They are as big as some of the mini tablets,” Pete opined.
“Professor, I thought one of the links you sent was fascinating: 4.6 billion mobile phone users in a world of 7.3 billion people!” Rob exclaimed.
“I have a friend who works in humanitarian engineering in third world countries. He tells me that people in some places he visits, will go without food to have a cellphone. In the past, communicating with relatives 60 miles away was a one week commitment of time, because of the primitive transportation. Now, they can do it instantly,” the Professor shared.
“What about the fact that there are as many mobile phones as people on the earth,” Pete exclaimed.
“I guess some people have more than one,” Rob suggested.
“So are mobile phones dying?” the Professor asked.
“I think it is the same argument. When I was starting out at ACME, I had a mobile phone that could take photos, but the quality was really poor. By 2010 the photo quality was good, today it is excellent. I hardly ever take a camera with me, my smartphone photos are excellent,” Patty said.
“So, I’m guessing you don’t need to get a new smartphone as often because the technology has now stabilized, and improvements are only incremental?” the Professor asked.
“Precisely,” Patty responded.
“I think we agree; PCs, tablets, and mobile phones are here to stay, but their sales will be flat or slightly down due to market saturation and technology maturity.”
“Here, here,” Pete chuckled.
“Where do you see electronics growing?” the Professor asked.
Patty and Rob then shared their exciting experience in buying a new car and all of the electronics it has.
Pete then chimed in, “Don’t forget the internet of things (IoT). I think this is the future of electronics growth, but it is not one device. The number of devices is innumerable – and growing! And I think it will help electronics grow even faster than in the past.”
They discussed IoT for quite a while and then Rob had a thought.
“Bottom terminated components and especially QFNs will be with us for a long time as they are in all of these devices. So the work we did for Mike Madigan on voiding should have a lasting impact,” Rob posited.
“Patty, you need to do something about Rob. He’s becoming too serious,” Pete teased.
Everyone laughed at that and got up to leave after what they all felt was a fruitful meeting.