The Death of the PC, Intel’s Roadmap Leak, North Focals 2.0

The PCs Death
I enjoyed this article from Ed Bott looking at the predictions of the death of the PC that did not happen. Admittedly, I was in the group who soured on the PC when the tablet launched and questioned the relevance of the PC form factor in light of the easier to use tablet. I underestimated the resiliency of the PC form factor, despite my belief something like the iPad is still better suited for a mainstream, non-techie. But you can argue the software ecosystem for the iPad simply did not develop and would be PC switchers felt there was too much compromise than what they were comfortable with. My choice of word here, comfort, is a key behavioral lesson we should all learn.

I’ve written before a thesis I have on behavioral debt. Something that when a human becomes comfortable doing something, it becomes very hard to change that habit. It’s a technological observation of the saying, “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” While I will argue, but maybe not die on the hill, my belief that the iPad is a much more approachable and mainstream device that is more capable than many give it credit for. Young people, older people, people with no PC/Mac literacy all respond better and do more with an iPad than they do with traditional PCs. But that does not change the fact the iPad did not kill the PC, and ultimately the demand for the PC has remained consistently strong.

I do, however, think the smartphone and iPad, while not killing the PC, did absolutely change the end-users relationship with their PC. A notebook or desktop became one piece of a computing solution rather than the sole computing device. In work situations, work now takes place on any number of screens. Similarly, for consumers (in a non-work context), more of their time is spent on a smartphone than a PC on a daily basis.

Overall, Ed’s essay is correct. The PC did not die, and it is also still a healthy tech category with innovation still to come. However, the overall sentiment of the PC has largely been hit, and it’s death as the sole computing device has dramatically shifted its role in the market and the category itself. Which is as significant as an observation as those that predicted it’s death.

Intel’s Roadmap Leak
Along similar lines as above, there are fascinating dynamics of Intel in the market. Amidst surging PC demand, Intel is facing shortages. Their commentary to investors is one of confidence that these shortages have nothing to do with issues in 10nm yield and more to do with their underestimating the demand. To counter this, they are upping production by 25%.

The most important point regarding Intel’s future, in my opinion, is that Intel has lost process technology leadership. Honestly, this was something regarding Intel that many did not see coming. It was hard to imagine, actually, due to how much money Intel spent to make sure they kept process technology leadership. But now, TSMC has surpassed Intel and is now shipping in mass 7nm technology with a roadmap to 5nm that seems to happen without any issues.

That is why I thought this leaked roadmap of Intel process technology was quite interesting.

This slide is the key visual that shows their roadmap leading to 1.4nm by 2029.

While we don’t have a roadmap for TSMC and Samsung, I’m not convinced this roadmap shows us Intel regaining process technology leadership. I’m also not convinced we can believe the timeline Intel has set forth in this chart. I wish Intel was firing on all cylinders and we could believe they can maintain a steady transition to new process technology their track record with 14nm and 10nm has not been enough to justify credibility.

However, while I have not given up entirely on my last foundry standing theory, it has become increasingly harder to believe Intel will remain in the hunt as the last foundry standing. Should things economically become challenging for Intel, selling off the foundries is something the board could force, or Intel could have no choice.

As a reminder, Intel is the only customer for their manufacturing group where Samsung and TSMC have an overflow of customers lining up for their new process technology and shipping billions of chips rather than 330-350 million chips as Intel does.

Intel’s management speaks to a TAM increase opportunity for Intel, but I’m not sure that leads to a manufacturing increase for Intel, which could still leave them holding onto manufacturing assets that don’t get used.

IF Intel can navigate these waters and still come out on top, it will be a lesson for the business schools to use for decades to come.

North Focal’s 2.0
In the same time frame, a report on Magic Leap came out suggesting far less than stellar sales of the developer model, North Focal’s 2.0 were teased on North’s blog. What is most interesting to me about this product is North’s positioning as the future of eyewear. They are not saying it’s the future of computing, or even a new computing interface or paradigm. Rather they are eyewear evolved.

North version 1.0 was a pretty weak experience, in my opinion. The display was hard to see, had to be customized to your specific face, only showed a few bits of information in a very simple text format, and honestly took too much energy goes, consumer, the information displayed vs. what I get on my watch.

I’m extremely interested in how this space develops and what applications gain traction in the market. As Tom Mainelli wrote last week, Qualcomm’s XR2 platform has the potential to bring a plethora of products to market that tests the waters of AR/VR and essentially computers that sit over our eyes.

Ultimately, the face and the eyes are going to be one of the most challenging places to bring computers, and I honestly believe only a few companies are positioned to succeed here. But, I’d like to end on this point. In the same way, we thought something new was going to kill the PC, and people are fast to push smartphones to the side in favor of some unknown AR future. I think we should learn the lesson I did and not underestimate legacy form factors and their resilience in the marketplace.

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Ben Bajarin

Ben Bajarin is a Principal Analyst and the head of primary research at Creative Strategies, Inc - An industry analysis, market intelligence and research firm located in Silicon Valley. His primary focus is consumer technology and market trend research and he is responsible for studying over 30 countries. Full Bio

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