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Looks Like The Semi Industry Will Grow In 2011, Just Not As Fast

Dec. 28, 2010
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Welcome to Electronic Design’s annual Forecast issue, where our editors make prognostications for their various beats, and our contributing editors take a gander at 2011 in their specialty areas. In addition, we’ve invited several industry analysts to add their two cents to the mix.

Naturally, my e-mail box is bursting with projections for 2011 at this time of year. I thought I would report on some of the expectations for the semiconductor industry. Coming off a banner year in 2010, the industry is expected to slow down some in 2011 according to two analyst firms, Gartner Inc. and iSuppli Corp.

Gartner says worldwide semiconductor revenue is forecast to total $314 billion in 2011, up just 4.6% from 2010’s estimated revenue of $300.3 billion. According to the firm, a modest chip correction began in the third quarter of 2010, and its analysts estimate that the trend will last four quarters.

“The third quarter of 2010 was the turning point, as semiconductor manufacturing factory utilization rates peaked midyear and subsequently started to reduce chip lead times and average selling prices,” says Bryan Lewis, research vice president at Gartner. “Strong holiday electronic sales will be important in keeping the modest chip correction in check as we start 2011.”

Essentially, iSuppli agrees with this assessment. Although the semiconductor industry won’t repeat the blowout performance of 2010, iSuppli says, growth will continue in 2011 due to the ongoing recovery in the global economy and electronics market. Global semiconductor revenue in 2011 will reach $317.4 billion, up 5.1% from $302.0 billion projected for 2010. Additionally, iSuppli forecasts semiconductor revenue to rise to approximately $357.4 billion by 2014.

“Despite the resumption of growth in the semiconductor markets, enthusiasm is muted at best as the ghost of the recent economic downturn continues to haunt the industry,” says Dale Ford, senior vice president for market intelligence at iSuppli.

Memory in Decline?
Of all the semiconductor segments, Gartner says the memory market is the only one expected to decline in 2011, with revenue forecast to decrease 2.4%. DRAM is expected to decline 15.6% in 2011 due to weaker than expected PC demand and declining DRAM prices. NAND memory, however, is expected to grow 24%, as it is the main storage medium designed into many hot consumer electronic products.

And there is none hotter than the Apple iPad. Due to the massive success of the iPad and the arrival of a range of competing devices, iSuppli says, the use of NAND flash memory in tablets will triple from 2010 to 2011. Shipments of NAND flash for tablet devices are projected to reach 1.7 billion Gbytes next year, up a lofty 296.1% from 428 million Gbytes in 2010. The shipments will continue to climb steadily over the next few years, hitting 8.8 billion Gbytes by 2014.

“Devices like the iPad have wowed consumers with their responsiveness and media interaction, due in part to the use of NAND flash for data storage, instead of a traditional hard-disk drive,” says Michael Yang, senior analyst for memory and storage at iSuppli.

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New devices, based on the Android or Chrome operating systems from Google, should make tablets more affordable due to increased product selection and apps innovation. The surge in tablet shipments means that the amount of NAND required will quickly grow.

With the iPad leading the way, tablets will facilitate a new usage model that incorporates innovative ways of experiencing media and the Internet, spurring rising NAND usage in each tablet. Average density of NAND flash for tablets will reach 28 Gbytes in 2010. By 2014, average NAND flash memory density for the devices will reach 65 Gbytes. You can learn more about the latest developments in the memory market in a brief by Yang and Chien, “Are Tablets the Next NAND Pillar?” at www.isuppli.com.

So Who’s Buying Chips?
According to iSuppli, the phenomenal success of the iPad and iPhone is expected to make Apple the world’s second-largest OEM semiconductor buyer in 2011, potentially positioning the company to become the world’s top chip purchaser in 2012.

With projected semiconductor spending in 2011 of $16.2 billion, Apple will leap over Samsung Electronics Co., which will drop to the third spot with $13.9 billion. Apple’s one-step rise in the rankings will move the company to a close second place behind Hewlett-Packard Co., which will retain its top ranking next year thanks to $17.1 billion in projected spending.

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