Some Thoughts for Summer
Random thoughts as the summer kicks in:
• Is anyone surprised the Foxconn investment in Lordstown Motors has run out of gas? It was an odd marriage in many ways – the world’s largest ODM buying up the assets of a failing Midwestern automaker – but Foxconn took a similar approach with Sharp and, from a technical perspective, it gained crucial knowledge in electric vehicles, which it likely will need to keep its hooks in Apple, its biggest and most important customer, which almost assuredly is developing its own vehicle as a platform for its future software products.
Lordstown is now suing Foxconn over the breakup. Critics, on the other hand, are noting the long line of Foxconn promises that failed to materialize as planned and suggesting this was all too predictable.
• Speaking of Apple, the cellphone, and more precisely, the smartphone, may be the greatest consumer invention in the past 100 years. It’s certainly among the most ubiquitous. About 68% of the world’s citizens have smartphones, which given a global population of about 8.05 billion, suggests some 2.58 billion or so people are still walking around without an electronic device glued to their hands. (Bully for them.) While that means a huge market remains to be captured, the market share has been steady-state for the past five years.
But … overall shipments have dropped the past two years, the first back-to-back declines on record. (Some people, not all of whom are professional athletes – wink wink – are known to carry multiple phones.) With the population rising by about 82 million a year, perhaps we will eventually see a swing up. IDC thinks so, forecasting shipments to creep up at a rate of 2.6% compounded annually through 2027.
For the needle to really move, however, either of two things must happen. Africa – home to 1.28 billion including five of the 10 most smartphone-starved nations – must level up. Or, phone designers will either roll out a physical device that is truly novel and a must-have, or the next-gen networks (true zero-latency?) will require substantially more memory or processing power than current models can provide. As for me, I’d settle for anything that provides a more consistent voice connection. That in 2023 I can’t maintain a two-way conversation in many places in New England with my two-year-old Samsung is an ongoing source of frustration and bewilderment.
• The North American printed circuit board and EMS book-to-bills rose in tandem in May for the first time in more than two years. Granted, EMS companies buy most of their boards offshore, and the PCB ratio (0.89) remains under the benchmark 1.0 level that suggests future growth. Further, board orders typically lag EMS bookings, so the two indicators won’t always move the same direction at the same time even in a broadly rising market. Still, it’s an interesting marker for those like me who like watching statistical trends. As an aside, most of the publicly traded EMS and PCB companies have reported solid quarterly revenues thus far this year, and the Semiconductor Industry Association is forecasting the June quarter as the bottom of the semi slide, with recovery starting in the current period. At the risk of speaking too soon, we may have dodged the recession bullet.
• At the PCB East conference and exhibition in May, PCEA chairman Stephen Chavez and I held an impromptu focus group over lunch with the conference attendees. We tallied more than three pages of ideas for new technical presentations, which was invaluable feedback. More than that, however, registrants told us they want more time for networking between presentations and events. And perhaps somewhat surprisingly to me, but good news for the exhibitors, the conference attendees want more open time during the show hours so they can talk to exhibitors. We will happily incorporate those suggestions into next year’s PCB East, which takes place June 4-7 in Boxborough, MA.
• While the feedback from PCB East wasn’t received in time to make wholesale changes to the PCB West schedule, we did tinker around the margins to reduce the number of classes overlapping the exhibits. This year’s show takes place Sept. 19-22, again at the Santa Clara (CA) Convention Center. And new this year, we will have experts in printed circuit design and manufacturing on hand to answer attendee questions during the exhibition on Sept. 20. Among the industry experts who will be available are Rick Hartley (signal integrity and noise control), Susy Webb (design layout and routing), Nick Koop (flexible circuits), Stephen Chavez (PCB design), and Keven Coates (design for assembly). They will be available at scheduled times at the PCEA booth during the show hours of 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Visit pcbwest.com to see the schedule and to register.
Hope you have a great summer, and we look forward to catching up soon.