What's in store in the technology space this year? Making predictions is a dangerous game, but fun. Here's a shot.
The digital divide will widen, despite ever-cheaper computers. I'm always amazed at the number of people queued up for Internet access at the local library here in Baltimore. A ruler-wielding net czar, half-glasses perched low on her nose, secured by a heavy beaded chain, strictly limits users to their allotted 15 minutes to give others a chance to suck bits. Chatting up folks in the line I've found most have computers or at least don't object to the cost of the machines. But the monthly access fees are simply too expensive. Coupled with the price of an extra phone line for dialup users (if you've got kids, you know how much time they spend on-line researching homework), the costs are simply prohibitive for most.
Microsoft will continue to succeed in providing embedded content for cell phones, but will lose all other embedded focus during 2004. Cheap to free OSS alternatives to Office, not the threat of Linux competing with Windows, will cause the company to panic as more governments and large corporations dump the expensive Microsoft suite or force radical price restructurings. That panic will consume the company for the year, but expect them to realize the next growth arena is the embedded space. Watch for major Microsoft inroads there in 2005 and beyond.
Intel and AMD will find their desktop CPU strategies imploding. The demand for more performance will dwindle; price-sensitive consumers will be more than satisfied with a mid-ranged P4-type product. There's no desktop 64-bit market and the few tens of thousands of servers that really need such power won't justify multi-billion dollar fabs. Both companies got fat on the extremely high margins of bleeding edge processors, but 2004's $400 PCs will use a cheap and not very profitable chip.
Consumers will instead derive enhanced performance from larger RAM arrays. By year-end inexpensive PCs will sport 2 GB of DRAM, greatly speeding demanding apps like video processing. Micron has already posted a profit on expanding DRAM biz in the most recent quarter.
Cheap transistors will benefit the FPGA players more than ASIC vendors. The latter hoped to profit from hideously expensive, deep-submicron geometry ICs, which would increase integration while reducing chip costs. Ironically FPGA vendors will find these denser chips help them steal market share from the ASIC crowd, since multi-megabuck mask costs can be spread over an FPGA sold to thousands of customers.
The embedded job market will improve, though not robustly. Despite a rising economy, CEOs burned by the recession will, for now, continued cost-cutting strategies and send jobs offshore whenever possible. Expect an increase in product development times while companies struggle to learn how to manage engineering half a world away. The bright hiring spots will be with companies who fail in their exporting efforts and who immediately need to replace the engineering department they fired in an offshoring frenzy. Finally, entertainment and the 'net will continue to converge. According to Yahoo top search items in 2003 were:
- Harry Potter
- American Idol
- Britney Spears
- 50 Cent
- Paris Hilton
- Chirstina Aquilera
The list is as revealing as a certain famous videotape. Ms. Hilton's notoriety came rather late in the year, suggesting her hit rate must have been astronomical to have made it to the top 10 in such a short period.
Years ago an industry analyst told me that porn has always driven the net. That, it seems, is a constant. Expect more of the same in 2004.
Jack G. Ganssle is a lecturer and consultant on embedded development issues. He conducts seminars on embedded systems and helps companies with their embedded challenges. Contact him at . His website is .
As you say, consumers do not need 64 bit processing (as in supercomputer speed) but they will need 64 bit addressing if the typical RAM size is 2 GBytes. AMD one-upped Intel by creating an x86 compatible 64 bit CPU, the Opteron. I would expect cheap, moderate speed versions of this kind of chip just to access 4+ GBytes of memory. Who needs it? Consumers! Tried editing your camcorder tapes recently? We have. A 15 minute movie took 6 GBytes in an AVI file. If you can get it all in RAM, it will render faster. Just like the database problem only for video. The conversion to 64 bits will be a one-time hit, but it should keep ASPs on the high end machines up for a while.
– David Wyland