In the world of CMOS semiconductor process, the fundamental heartbeat that drives the continuing evolution of all the devices and computers we use and governs at a fundamantal level hte services we can layer on top of them is the continual shrinkage of the transistors we build upon, and we are used to the regular cadence of miniaturization, generally led by Intel, as we progress from one generation to the next. 32nm logic is so old-fashioned, 22nm parts are in volume production across the entire CPU spectrum, 14 nm parts have started to appear, and the rumor mill is active with reports of initial shipments of 10 nm parts in mid-2016. But there is a collective nervousness about the transition to 7 nm, the next step in the industry process roadmap, with industry leader Intel commenting at the recent 2015 International Solid State Circuit conference that it may have to move away from conventional silicon materials for the transition to 7 nm parts, and that there were many obstacles to mass production beyond the 10 nm threshold.
But there are other players in the game, and some of them are anxious to demonstrate that Intel may not have the commanding lead that many observers assume they have. In a surprise move that hints at the future of some of its own products and that will certainly galvanize both partners and competitors, IBM, discounted by many as a spent force in the semiconductor world with its recent divestiture of its manufacturing business, has just made a real jaw-dropper of an announcement – the existence of working 7nm semiconductors.
Recently, I’ve been on the go: I’ve just returned from a two-week sprint that took me to five different cities by plane, train, and car. Any frequent traveler is familiar with the logistical challenges that make multimode transport inconvenient – whether it's dashing between connecting flights or strategizing a taxi pickup to catch the train, switching between methods of transportation can make for a trying, disjointed journey overall.
As I settled into one flight by turning off my mobile phone and opening my laptop, it dawned on me that our path through the fragmented digital world is similar to my multiphase journey. As our physical location changes and as we realize the limitations of certain device experiences, we reach for various devices to carry out the task at hand – often, we complete one activity sequentially across screens and expect a seamless experience.
In fact, Forrester's Consumer Technographics® data shows that more than half of US online adults who begin tasks on their mobile phone continue them on their laptop. These consumers are most frequently purchasing products, checking emails, and researching items:
Yesterday, Microsoft released the Surface Pro 3, a 12" touchscreen device billed as "the tablet that can replace your laptop." Sporting some hard-core computing bona fides (including Intel processors and Windows 8.1) and new innovations (like an active stylus that activates note-taking outside of the lock screen), the device in its third generation offers a new level of mobility despite having a larger screen than its predecessors in the Surface line. It's worth taking a look at:
Microsoft designed the Surface Pro 3 with a variety of seemingly incremental improvements that, once assembled in the same device, make it surprisingly innovative. In fact, you should think about it as quite a departure from the earlier Surface models. With this product, Microsoft makes its best yet argument for device consolidation for the workforce, potentially allowing some workers to stop carrying separate laptop and tablet devices in favor of Pro 3. For consumers, the Surface Pro 3 doesn't act as a substitute for popular 8" form factor tablets, but it might make for a good laptop replacement.
That's not to say it's (to quote the cliche) any sort of "iPad killer"; the starting price of a Surface Pro 3 is higher than the iPad's starting price. It's more like a successor to the laptop -- but one that takes mobility quite seriously. Altogether, it's likely to be popular among prosumers, BYOD consumers, and perhaps some other segments.
In recent research, I have laid out some similarities and differences between tablets and laptops. But the tablet market is growing ever more fragmented, yielding subtleties that aren’t always captured with a simple “PC vs. tablet” dichotomy. As Infrastructure & Operations (I&O) professionals try to determine the composition of their hardware portfolios, the product offerings themselves are more protean. Just describing the “tablet” space is much harder than it used to be. Today, we’re looking at multiple OSes (iOS, Android, Windows, Blackberry, forked Android), form factors (eReader, tablet, hybrid, convertible, touchscreen laptop), and screen sizes (from 5” phabletsand to giant 27” furniture tablets) – not to mention a variety of brands, price points, and applications. If, as rumored, Microsoft were to enter the 7” to 8” space – competing with Google Nexus, Apple iPad Mini, and Kindle Fire HD – we would see even more permutations. Enterprise-specific – some vertically specific – devices are proliferating alongside increased BYO choices for workers.
Enterprise laptops are on the shopping list for many I&O professionals I speak with every week, with some asking if Netbooks are the antidote to the MacBook Air for their people. Well, on the menu of enterprise laptops, I think of Netbooks as an appetizer -- inexpensive, but after an hour my stomach is growling again. Garden-variety ultraportables on the other hand are like a turkey sandwich -- everything I need to keep me going, but they make me sleepy halfway through the afternoon.
Ultrabooks are a new class of notebook promoted by Intel and are supposed to be a little more like caviar and champagne -- light and powerful, but served on business-class china with real silverware and espresso. At least that's what I took away after being briefed by Intel on the topic. I had the chance to sample HP's new Ultrabook fare in San Francisco a few weeks ago while they were still in the test kitchen, and it seems they took a little different approach. Not bad, just different.
It struck me that rather than beluga and Dom Perignon , HP has created more of a Happy Meal -- a tasty cheeseburger and small fries with a Diet Coke, in a lightweight, easy to carry package for a bargain price. It has everything the road warrior needs to get things done, and like a Happy Meal, they can carry it on the plane and set it on the tray table…even if the clown in front of them reclines. Folio offers the Core i5-2467M processor, 4GB RAM, a 13.3" LED display and a 128GB SSD storage, a 9-hour battery and USB 3.0 + Ethernet ports as highlights, all for $900. It's a true bargain. I think I will call it the McUltrabook.
Fujitsu? Who? I recently attended Fujitsu’s global analyst conference in Boston, which gave me an opportunity to check in with the best kept secret in the North American market. Even Fujitsu execs admit that many people in this largest of IT markets think that Fujitsu has something to do with film, and few of us have ever seen a Fujitsu system installed in the US unless it was a POS system.
So what is the management of this global $50 Billion information and communications technology company, with a competitive portfolio of client, server and storage products and a global service and integration capability, going to do about its lack of presence in the world’s largest IT market? In a word, invest. Fujitsu’s management, judging from their history and what they have disclosed of their plans, intends to invest in the US over the next three to four years to consolidate their estimated $3 Billion in N. American business into a more manageable (simpler) set of operating companies, and to double down on hiring and selling into the N. American market. The fact that they have given themselves multiple years to do so is very indicative of what I have always thought of as Fujitsu’s greatest strength and one of their major weaknesses – they operate on Japanese time, so to speak. For an American company to undertake to build a presence over multiple years with seeming disregard for quarterly earnings would be almost unheard of, so Fujitsu’s management gets major kudos for that. On the other hand, years of observing them from a distance also leads me to believe that their approach to solving problems inherently lacks the sense of urgency of some of their competitors.