Electronic devices increasingly dominate the way humanity interacts and creates, so understanding what is happening in the electronics industry as a whole is a key component to understanding humanity’s future. Whether most humans will be interacting through desktop PCs, wearable smart devices or processors embedded in buildings and cars in the future will have a big impact on human society and how it functions.
Software, networks, communication protocols, media and everything else which runs on electronics are increasingly redefining and becoming embedded in human culture. This phenomenon is not new. To take just one example, look at how the evolution of electronics has transformed human politics. The advent of the transistor radio allowed political leaders such as Roosevelt and Hitler to transmit their words directly into people’s homes so they became a personal presence in people’s lives. The advent of the color television made people intimately aware of the visual features of politicians, so a youthful, telegenic man like John F. Kennedy could win a televised debate. Statistical analysis and number crunching by computers and software models had transformed how political campaigns are waged and who is targeted by those campaigns. The rise of social media and billions of mobile devices made it possible for left-wing candidates such as Jeremy Corbin and Bernie Sanders to bypass the traditional media and appeal directly to their base, but it has also given voice to ultra-nationalism and bigotry on the right.
More overlooked is the fact that electronics is an enormous consumer of energy and resources. Despite the small size of its components, the fabrication and use of electronics has an alarming impact on the environment, far beyond its its physical size. It is easy for humans to grasp the environmental significance of construction, transportation, agriculture or extractive industries, because buildings, automobiles, fields and mining pits are tangible, large in size and easy to visualize. It is not easy to visualize the movement of electrons through circuits or the generation of those electrons in distant power plants. As electronics becomes increasingly nanoscaled and its processing moves to remote server farms away from the public eye, it becomes easier to overlook the impact of electronics on the environment.
In an effort to better grasp the scope of these impacts, both societal and environmental, it is necessary to first ask how much the global electronics industry is producing and what are the trends in its production. These basic questions are remarkably hard to answer, because most electronics firms do not release production numbers out of fear that they will negatively impact their stock prices or reveal too much information to their competitors. It is telling that the only significant maker of phones, tablets and PCs to consistently release its production numbers is Apple, which enjoys a protected niche where it controls its own hardware and software, so it is shielded from competition. The producers of game consoles used to release their production numbers, since the producers of games needed to know the potential market size of their games. Now, Sony and Microsoft only sporadicly release the total lifetime number of gaming consoles as part of an occasional press release, so production is impossible to track year to year or quarter to quarter.
Most of the production numbers in the electronics industry are compiled by market intelligence firms such as International Data Corporation, Gartner, IHS, etc., which are loathe to release too much to the public. Instead, they release just enough information to garner headlines in tech news sites and to convince people to fork over thousands of dollars for market reports, whose details they are legally forbidden to share. What is publicly released provides little historical context, since the press releases generally only focuses on one quarter or year and its growth rate compared to the previous time period. Stringing together a whole series of these press releases, it may be possible to construct an idea of change over time, but the market intelligence firms often change their definitions of what is being counted and delete old press releases from their web sites.
Trying to piece together the puzzle with publicly accessible information can be a very frustrating task. The rivalry of Gartner and IDC to be the premiere intelligence firm for PCs, smartphones and tablets leads them to consistently publish the number of units shipped every quarter, but other sectors of the electronics industry only merit an occasional press every couple years. Often these press releases contain a growth rate or an expected product number, without providing a single datum of historical production. Nonetheless, there is often enough to piece together a sequence over time with some interpolation and educated guesses.
The overwhelming trend of the electronics industry since its inception has been growth based on a smaller and often cheaper form-factor displacing most of the market for the previous form-factor. Hulking mainframes were displaced by mini-computers and terminals in the late 60s and early 70s. Those in turn were displaced by personal computers and networks in the late 70s and early 80s. In
On those personal computers, the bulky RS-232, DB-25 and VGA ports were replaced by smaller FireWire, USB, DisplayPort, HDMI and Thunderbolt ports, which in turn are now being replaced by even smaller micro-USB, micro-HDMI, Lightning and finally USB Type C ports, which threatens to replace them all. replaced by smaller and DisplayPortand ISA slots were replaced by the Bulky bulky parallel ports were replaced by smaller Firewire andTreplaced mainframes in the late 60s and personal coe mputers replaces Given these problems, here is
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in build will have a big has How many devices are being Since The global production of advanced electronic devices dropped in 2016 for the first time since the economic downturn of 2008-9. The number of smartphones, smart wearables (such as the Apple Watch), camcorders and handheld game consoles grew in 2016, but the production of 2,817.3 million electronic devices in 12 different categories was 2.8% less than in 2015.
Over the last decade smartphones have eaten away at the market for most of the types of electronics listed in the table above. Once smartphones began to produced on a massive scale starting in 2007, they largely replaced the market for PDAs, cameras, camcorders, portable media players, GPS devices and handheld game consoles. Global production peaked in 2008 for portable media players, handheld game consoles and portable GPS devices and in 2010 for cameras and camcorders. These devices have largely been relegated to niche items for specialty markets.
The cheap point-and-shoot cameras which were so popular a decade ago have mostly disappeared from the market. Most cameras being sold today are more expensive models with better zooms, sensors and image processors than found in a standard smartphone. According to CIPA, only 6.7% of digital cameras produced in 2006 contained an interchangeable lens, whereas that percentage had grown to 47.8% a decade later in 2016.
Likewise, the market for standard camcorders has also largely disappeared, as most consumers now have a smartphone for low-quality filming. There is still a good market for professional quality camcorders, but almost all the growth in recent years has been for action cameras, known as “action-cams,” that are water proof and can be worn unobtrusively on the body. Frost and Sullivan estimate that 62% of the camcorders produced in 2016 were action-cams.
The same relegation to niches is occurring for GPS devices. According to IHS iSuppli, global production of GPS devices peaking in 2008 at 42.08 million devices. For many consumers, the maps on their cell phones provided by Google Maps, Waze, Apple Maps or OpenStreetMap are good enough to avoid buying a dedicated GPS device from a manufacturer such as Garmin or TomTom. GPS devices have been forced to increase the quantity and quality of their offline maps in order to differentiate from the free online maps that come with most smartphones and tablets. The need for greater offline storage capacity and higher resolution screens in these devices has increased their manufacturing costs, so they often cost as much as a mid-range smartphone with less functionality. There is still a niche market for people who need a navigation device to drive in places with cellular dead zones or have limited cellular data plans, but it will become increasingly difficult to justify a dedicated GPS device in the future as cellular data plans continue to get cheaper and the data collection in online services such as Google Maps provides better real-time information about traffic and road closings.
Although Garmin remains the leader in the shrinking car navigation market, most of Garmin’s focus today is on the growing market for wearable GPS devices that can also track biometric information such as heartbeats, running steps, golf swing speed, swimming strokes, etc. While Garmin can charge a premium for these fitness wearables, the market is limited and cheaper devices from companies like Fitbit are encroaching on their premium market. Smartphones are also incorporating biometric sensors and becoming thinner and more water-proof, so it may be just a matter of time before Like camera and camcorder manufacturers, GPS device makers have been forced to focus on the high end of the car navigation market or or the Many experts here is a growing market for action GPS become increasingly difficult for GPS device makers to compete with the network effec
Further analysis will follow, but for now here is the data: