Wednesday, 7 November 2012

Smart devices: towards a billion unit category

I've been doing a bit of analysis on smart device shipments and thought I'd share. My thesis is that the true impact of smartphones and tablets are in the supply chain effects of a billion unit computing device category. Smart devices aren't quite going to make it that far in 2012 - my estimate is that 700m smartphone and 125m tablet units will ship this calendar year - but it seems likely that with falling prices and ever-growing consumer acceptance they'll make it to a billion total in 2013.

What this means is that the components of smart devices - processors, DRAM, screens, interfaces, cameras, GPS, Wi-Fi and cellular base bands - are all dirt cheap. Pennies or a few dollars for serviceable kit.

That's massively reduced the cost of creating new categories of computing. Small businesses can once again engineer cutting edge products merely by virtue of their insight and ability to innovate. A fabbing plant and hundred-million dollar research budget are no longer the price of entry. New funding platforms like Kickstarter are helpful in this regard as they improve access to capital for ventures.

The above means that I think we'll see a raft of new categories hitting the mass market in 2013 and '14, such as:
  • Heads up display - regular readers will know that I'm obsessed by Google Glass and its competitors
  • Smart watches - don't laugh, there are a number of mainstream vendors in the watch computer market already and Kickstarter projects like Pebble have done astoundingly well at raising money
  • Wearables - Fuel Band has been an early success story in the category of wearable health monitoring. Now that the concept is out there I suspect a lot of fitness brands will follow suit in an attempt to drive brand loyalty
  • Life recorders - Pebble was Q1's Kickstarter success story, Memeto is Q4's. Label cameras that photograph everything you're doing during the day could well be 2013's geek/ celeb toy
  • Robots - video conferencing and telemedicine robots will make mainstream news in 2013. Autonomous drones for law enforcement and news broadcasting will do the same in 2014 (in my view)
I'll cover these topics in more detail later this year. But I thought the data was fun, even if I've called the implications wrong!


  1. Smartphones themselves, too - small players have a chance again. I'd buy one of these:

  2. Glad to see the mention to Peddle... as you suggest, this could be the shape of things to come... niche hardware manufacturers. Could 2012 be the beginning of fragmentation in the consumer hardware market? With 3D printing on the horizon, all seems to be pointing in that direction..