Some Bright Spots in the Gloom

2 min read

Samuel K. Moore is IEEE Spectrum’s semiconductor editor.

The technology industry is suffering mightily from the global economic crisis. Worldwide semiconductor revenue is expected to drop 24.1 percent in 2009, to US $194.5 billion, according to Gartner, a technology research firm in Stamford, Conn. Meanwhile, revenue from enterprise software—that is, corporate-scale systems—will be flat at about $222 billion. Still, there are some sectors that will gain, some bright spots in the gloom.

LEDs: The LCD TV market may be all gloom and doom, but LEDs are increasingly becoming the way to light the screen up. They replace cold-cathode fluorescent lamps, leading to slimmer TVs or screens with an improved ­contrast ratio. The LCD TV market will gobble up $163 million worth of LEDs in 2009, according to market research firm iSuppli, in El Segundo, Calif. That’s more than double last year’s figure. By 2012, LCD TV makers will be spending $1.4 billion on them. Manufacturers are using LEDs more often to backlight LCD TVs because of efficiency improvements and the development of lower-cost manufacturing in Taiwan and South Korea, says Jagdish Ribello, iSuppli’s LED analyst. Even more gains will surely come, now that engineers have figured out a way to fight an efficiency-sapping phenomenon called LED droop.

Virtualization: In a slump, the drive to do more with less is acute. So virtualization software, which basically lets a company get more out of its computing infrastructure by creating the equivalent of multiple machines per computer, is a natural fit. Gartner says the overall market will grow 43 percent to $2.7 billion in 2009. The largest component of that will be the $1.3 billion worth of virtualization management software Gartner expects firms to sell this year.

MEMS: Open up 1 in 10 new cellphones shipped in 2008 and you’d find a MEMS accelerometer, according to iSuppli. And mobile phones will continue to drive growth this year—not just for accelerometers but for zoom and auto-focus actuators, pico projectors, gyroscopes, and RF filters, too. Together with consumer items like game controllers and digital cameras, mobiles will push the market up 12 percent in 2009, to nearly $1.4 billion. MEMS manufacturers are making it easier to include accelerometers. For example, in March, STMicroelectronics unveiled an accelerometer for handhelds that can be hooked directly to a mobile’s battery without an intervening voltage regulator and that works consistently even as the battery runs down.

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