Microsoft are among the major technology companies that are now undergoing a major round of layoffs. Having released around 11,000 employees, Microsoft has downsized staffing across its numerous business operations, including gaming units Xbox and Bethesda. This round of layoffs has also seen the disbanding of the development teams behind Altspace VR and the Mix Reality Tool Kit. The VR social media platform Altspace VR is scheduled to shut down on March 10th this year.
Is Microsoft Exiting the Market for Technologies Related to AR/VR and Metaverse?
Microsoft acquired AltspaceVR in 2017, and the Windows Mix Reality headset was released in the same year. The plan was to have the newly acquired social media platform generate the demand for the headset, thereby spurring other hardware brands to continue investing in similar products.
However, fast forward to the current year of 2023, the Windows Mix Reality headset possesses almost no market share as AltspaceVR fails to hold a notable number of active users for this device. TrendForce believes Microsoft has no choice but to stop maintaining the social media platform that is not bringing in any significant economic benefits.
However, TrendForce has to point out that “platform system” is still the core of Microsoft’s strategy for the development of AR/VR technologies. Going forward, Microsoft intends to have applications related to VR social media integrated into the Microsoft Mesh, which is its new VR/AR communication and collaboration platform that can work on multiple types of devices.
Microsoft can also encourage third-party developers to build VR social media platforms that are compatible with its technologies. Bottom line is this: there is no need for Microsoft to operate its own VR social media platform. All in all, AltspaceVR is a component that Microsoft has taken out because it no longer fits into its strategy. Terminating the platform does not mean that the company has decided to sit on the sideline in the formation of the Metaverse market, as speculated by some outsiders.
The Metaverse Is Only a Medium, and Maintaining User Engagement on a VR Social Media Platform Depends on the Capability to Offer a Variety of Functions
The shutdown of AltspaceVR reveals the current challenges in the development of Metaverse communities. In the case of social media services, simply adding AR/VR technologies or some elements related to the Metaverse will not lead to long-term engagement by users. To get users to stay, these platforms need to rely on their own special interfaces, functions, and features.
Take the relatively successful VR social media platforms such as Roblox, Rec Room and VRChat as examples. They first enable users to self-generate content and express their creativity in various ways, and then they provide the avenue for social interactions and trading of virtual goods. Hence, TrendForce believes fulfilling the creative aspiration is the key to keeping users. Offering some AR/VR technologies and gimmicks associated with the Metaverse is just not enough.
On the other hand, functions that allow creativity tend not to be the reason why the majority of users join a particular social media platform in the first place. Also, a platform that has to work with an AR/VR device will be relatively difficult to access and operate, and this further limits the size of its user base. Taking the aforementioned factors in account, it is clear as to why AltspaceVR failed to gain traction. Positioning itself only as a social media platform, it did not really stand out in the competition even with AR/VR functions.
TrendForce’s takeaway from the closure of Altspace is that rather than building a social media service from scratch, Microsoft’s interests would be best served by acquiring an existing social media app or platform that already has a huge following. With the support from the Microsoft Mesh, such app or platform would be able to strengthen Microsoft’s service offerings for Metaverse communities in the future.
The market started worrying about the oversupply in semiconductor 2023, when the demand will start growing again depends on two factors: the situation of the macroeconomy and the inventory status.
Since foundries’ capacity utilization rates started drop in 3Q22, chip supply as a whole has decreased significantly. This, in turn, has helped limit inventory growth across the supply chain. However, the global economy is still at risk of a mild recession, so consumers may allocate more of their spending to daily necessities. They may also spend more on tourism due to easing of the pandemic. This could lead to weak sales for consumer electronic products.
Not to mention that most consumers already purchased the electronic products that they need for working or studying at home during the pandemic. Assuming that the overall inventory level of the supply chain will return to a healthier level, TrendForce believes that chip demand will begin to rebound to a certain extent in 2Q23. Then, the demand growth will become more obvious from 3Q23 onward. Nevertheless, this demand growth may not be too strong due to uncertainties in the global economy.
If we observe the situation from the perspective of the foundry industry, smartphones represent the largest application segment in terms of wafer consumption. The smartphone supply chain started inventory correction earlier, so demand rebound might be more obvious initially for smartphone-related chips compared with chips used in other consumer devices. On the other hand, with different benchmarks, the demand for HPC chips will show more significant growth compared with the demand for smartphone chips.
The demand situation of the global car market deteriorated in 2022 due to the impacts of the Russia-Ukraine military conflict and the ongoing COVID-19 outbreaks across China. However, the demand for automotive lighting products during the same year was propped up by two developments. First, the penetration rate of LED headlights (headlamps) rose further. Second, there were significant advances in technologies related to smart headlights, marker lights (lamps), and smart ambient lights.
Furthermore, costs surged for plastics during 2022, so suppliers for automotive lighting products had the opportunity to keep their prices steady or raise them. Hence, TrendForce estimates that the value of the global market for automotive lighting products has come to US$32.68 billion for 2022, reflecting a YoY growth of 4%.
Looking ahead, development trends in the automotive lighting market include personalized products, communication displays, solutions for ADAS, and improvements related to safety functions. TrendForce currently forecasts that the market value will scale up to US$34.314 billion for 2023, showing a YoY growth of 5%.
In addition to improvements in adaptive headlights and tail lights (lamps), TrendForce points to several other product categories that have gained greater importance and captured the attention of carmakers, automotive lighting suppliers, LED suppliers, and drive IC suppliers. Examples include marker lights, (smart) ambient lights, and solutions for light-signaling projection. The aforementioned market participants have been proactively developing offerings under these categories. Going forward, carmakers will continue to bring surprising and innovative ideas to the development of automotive lighting. This, in conjunction with the promotion of ADAS and automotive driving technologies, will create limitless market potential for automotive lighting suppliers.
TrendForce, the independent new energy research agency, forecasts that capacity for 210mm products will reach 57% in 2023. The penetration of 600W+ high-power modules is clearly accelerating, setting a distinct direction for both the industry chain and market.
As technology iteration is an essential force in driving industry development, an increasing number of module makers are now producing 210mm modules, marching into the 600W+ era.
More than 80% of module makers deploy 210mm technology as 600W+ high-power modules become a global standard
The 600W+ is now dominating major PV exhibitions around the world. 75% of the 600W+ products showcased by mainstream module makers at RE+2022 were fitted with 210mm wafers, demonstrating the advantage of the 210mm technology, and 30 companies had more than 40 600W products on display at Intersolar South America at the end of August. A similar pattern was seen at Intersolar Europe and SNEC.
According to TrendForce, more than 52 module makers (>80%) worldwide can now produce 210mm products. As indicated by TrendForce, capacity of large-sized modules has continued to expand this year, and new capacity is compatible with sizes of up to 210mm. Because of the extensive compatibility of 210mm cell and module technology, cutting-edge technologies such as TOPCon and HJT could be adopted, and module power output is likely to reach 700W+ soon.
Trina Solar, as the first mover of 210mm modules, recently put 210mm n-type capacity into mass production, reinforcing the company’s competitiveness with next-generation n-type cell technology. The refinement in 210mm products and n-type technology will further improve efficiency and cut costs.
Accumulated shipment of 210mm modules reached 50GW in first nine months of 2022
The production of 210mm modules is growing rapidly as the downstream high-power module market flourishes. In the first nine months of the year 50GW of 210mm cell modules were shipped. More than 76GW of such modules has been shipped as of third quarter 2022, and shipments were expected to accelerate in the last three months of 2022.
210mm module capacity to reach 57% by 2023
As indicated by TrendForce, large-sized modules (182mm and 210mm) are estimated to account for 512GW of capacity during 2022 at a ratio of 83%, of which 210mm capacity accounts for 287GW at 46%, representing year-on-year growth of 16%. Large-sized modules (182mm and 210mm), with their successive completion in capacity deployment next year, will occupy 89% of ratio then, and 210mm modules are likely to dominate, with estimated capacity of 466GW at 57%.
TrendForce forecasts that capacity of 210mm modules will continue to surge in 2023 and reach 66.04% by 2025, when 182mm module capacity will fall to 30%. In terms of wafers and cells, shipments of large-sized variations will continue to climb and dominate the market. New highs in global shipments of 210mm can be expected in the near future.
600W+ modules supreme in all-scenario for both utility and non-utility plants
High-power modules are widely used because of their superior LCOE and BOS costs. According to TrendForce, 600W+ high-power modules are becoming the trend in power stations, with 210mm technology seen as the first choice in making their 600W+ modules, which can reduce LCOE by up to 4.1%.
600W+ modules are yielding compatible solutions by adapting to different installation environments and projects that include ground-mounted power stations and distributed settings.
600W+ high-power modules lead the way as they deliver low LCOE
Low LCOE has been an ultimate target for the industry chain, and 600W+ modules that are equipped with high power, high efficiency, high energy yield, and high reliability can effectively reduce LCOE. Comparing 600W+ modules and 500W+ modules, the former have increased power output by 125-130W and increased module efficiency by 0.3-0.5%. 600W+ modules are also superior in energy yield, evidenced in test by their increase of 1.51~2.1% in single watt power generation. In addition, in five rigorous tests, 600W+ modules were proven to retain their highly reliable performance even in extreme climates.
Trina Solar, a pioneer in 210mm cell technology, has demonstrated to the market its solid strength and capability in the 600W+ field. As of third quarter 2022, Trina Solar has shipped 40GW 210mm modules, ranking first in the industry, with a total of 120GW of global modules shipments since its foundation.
According to TrendForce’s latest research, global NB shipments are forecasted to drop by 5.8% YoY to around 177 million units. However, the downtrend in NB shipments is starting to moderate, and the projected figure for 2023 is expected to represent the lowest point before 2025. Currently, inventory corrections for components and whole devices are taking place in the global supply chain for NBs. Prices are also being cut substantially across sales channels, and PC OEMs have scaled back component procurements. There is a chance that the NB market will return to its usual cyclical pattern and show growth during 2H23, when back-to-school and holiday-related promotions are expected to boost device sales.
However, this scenario will depend on two factors. First, PC OEMs will have been able to effectively get rid of the existing stock of NBs belonging to the older generations during 1H23. Second, global inflation will ease as 2023 progresses. Currently, the IMF forecasts that the rate of global inflation will slide down to 6.5% in 2023, compared with 8.8% in 2023. Such development will help raise the consumer spending related to electronics. All in all, notable inventory corrections and the reduction of inflationary pressure will allow the NB market to leave the gloomy situation of 2022 and get back to upbeat state of quarter-to-quarter shipment growth.
Market Segments for Commercial and Consumer NBs Will Both See Decline in 2023, Chromebooks, Gaming NBs, and Creator NBs Will Become Main Demand Drivers
Looking at the various segments of the NB market, unit shipments and market share are expected to drop for both commercial NBs and consumer NBs. Conversely, Chromebooks will grow in terms of shipments and market share despite various headwinds. In 1H23, mature regional markets such as the US and emerging regional markets such as Indonesia and India will be releasing tenders for Chromebook for educational uses. Turning to gaming NBs, their global shipments are forecasted to increase by 8.3% YoY to 17.45 million units for 2023 thanks to the seasonal demand surge in 2H23. As for creator NBs, the market for them is growing because professional content creators want to purchase a “mobile workstation” in place of a high-end gaming NB for tasks such as building 3D models and processing large amounts of multimedia files. Global shipments of creator NBs are forecasted to rise by 24.9% YoY to around 437,000 units for 2023.
(Note: “NB” stands for notebook or laptop computer.)