Why innovation could be the next killer app

by Phil LoPiccolo, Editor-in-Chief, Solid State Technology

Semico Research’s latest semiconductor market revenue forecast calls for a slight (0.5%) decline for the remainder of 2007 but shows a highly elastic (20%) rebound in 2008, with continued double-digit expansion for the next several years. Fueling this growth will be not a single killer app, but a host of innovative consumer electronic products, according to Jim Feldhan, president of the market research firm, speaking at a recent SEMI New England Breakfast meeting near Boston.

Topping the list of existing end market products poised for solid growth are hard disk drives for MP3 players and their ilk, which are expected to see a 27% CAGR over the next five years. Also, notebook computers will show robust growth of 17% over the period, as will high-end phones (16%), flash memory (11%) and game consoles (10%).

Other reports from the SEMI breakfast:
Analysts: No “white knight” recovery if memory spending tanks
IC cycles shrinking, and don’t bet on AMD or India
“Food for thought” — Are memory firms crazy like a fox?
The IC industry’s not-so-hidden risks

Such a wide assortment of emerging technologies that have debuted in consumer products already had been described by Feldhan earlier this year at the SEMI Industry Strategy Symposium (ISS). These included a virtual keyboard, a “telekinetic” device for quadriplegics, a birdsong identifier, and a “health buddy” for the chronically ill.

Showing the potential of virtual objects, Feldhan described showed how a virtual computer keyboard that could be projected onto a flat surface, such as an airplane tray table. The user connects a projector that is about the size of a Bic lighter to a laptop, smart phone, or other portable unit using Bluetooth technology, and the unit projects an image of a red keyboard onto thea surface. It may be awkward to use at first since there’s no tactile feedback, Feldhan said, though he noted the device “emits a clicking noise each time it registers a key, and it’s amazing how quickly one’s brain adapts to the audio feedback.”

Along with the virtual keyboard, other new display and projection technologies may soon help turn hand-held devices into full featured computers, Feldhan noted. As an example, he cited a new heads-up display that projects a virtual 42-in., high-definition screen that appears to the viewer to be about 10 ft away. Another technology designed for full-featured, ultra-portable computing is the Sony Vaio (see image above). Small enough to fit in a pocket, it weighs about a pound and has a 4.5-in. touch screen that slides up to reveal a keyboard.

Feldhan also cited an assortment of gadgets for outdoor enthusiasts, such as electronic fish finders, digitally enhanced binoculars with built-in cameras, as well as the so-called “Bird Sleuth,” a gadget device aimed at some 45 million birdwatchers that samples a bird song, compares it to a database, and accurately identifies the bird species.

On the home healthcare front, Feldhan described Honeywell’s “Health Buddy,” a system deployed in the UK that performs five diagnostic tests, tracks up to 50 diseases, monitors intake of medicines, performs diagnostic readings, and sends them results over the internet Internet to the a health provider


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