The growth of the metaverse will drive an increasing number of companies to participate in the build-out of the virtual world, with use cases such as social communities, gaming/entertainment, content creation, virtual economy, and industrial applications all becoming important points of focus in the coming years, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Apart from increases in both computing power of semiconductors and coverage of low-latency, high-speed networks, the metavere’s development will also depend on the adoption of AR/VR devices by end users. TrendForce expects global AR/VR device shipment for 2022 to reach 12.02 million units, a 26.4% YoY increase, with Oculus and Microsoft each taking leadership position in the consumer and commercial markets, respectively.
TrendForce further indicates that the success of AR/VR devices in the consumer and commercial markets will be determined by their retail prices and degree of system integration, respectively, while these two factors are also responsible for leading companies’ continued competitive advantages. However, gross and net profit considerations regarding AR/VR hardware have made it difficult to not only price these devices competitively, but also increase the volume of AR/VR device shipment.
Even so, the growing popularity of the metaverse will drive more and more hardware brands to enter the AR/VR market and push online service platform providers to either directly or indirectly propel the growth of the hardware market in 2022. Regarding the consumer market, AR/VR device suppliers may look to expand their user base and increase their market penetration via low-priced yet high-spec devices, while compensating for their reduced hardware profitability through software sales. Oculus, for instance, has adopted such a strategy to maintain its advantage in the market, thereby raising the market share of the Oculus Quest products to a forecasted 66% next year.
Regarding the commercial market, there has been a growth in applications ranging from remote interactions and virtual collaborations to digital twins; hence, enterprises have become increasingly willing to adopt AR/VR devices. Compared to the consumer market, which is mainly driven by products with low prices and high specs, the commercial market is comprised of enterprises that are more willing to choose high-priced and high-performance products, although such products must be paired with a full system integration solution or customized services. Possessing substantial competency in the industrial ecosystem, Microsoft enjoys a relatively large competitive advantage in the commercial market, as the company’s HoloLens 2 became one of the few commercial AR devices with an annual shipment exceeding 200,000 units this year.
It should also be pointed out that, given the rapid advancements in high-speed 5G networks, video-based remote assistance applications enabled by low-priced AR glasses and 5G smartphones’ computing and networking functions will become yet another commercial AR/VR use case. TrendForce believes that these applications can serve as a low-cost, easily deployable early trial that will not only raise enterprises’ willingness to adopt more AR/VR commercial applications going forward, but also accelerate the development of commercial services related to the metaverse.
Smartphones are essential to people’s daily lives and constitute a basic necessity. TrendForce therefore expects the smartphone industry to rebound and post marginal growth next year, assuming that economic activities worldwide will mostly return to normal by then. The main trend drivers in the smartphone market next year are still going to be the usual device replacement cycle and the additional demand from emerging markets. TrendForce expects annual smartphone production for 2022 to reach about 1.39 billion units and the YoY growth rate hitting 3.8%.
Expanding market share will be very challenging for smartphone brands due to fierce competition
Samsung’s smartphone production for 2022 is expected to reach 276 million units, a 1.1% YoY growth. The company continues to reorganize and extend its product series. The integration of the Galaxy Note series with the Foldable series, the continuation of the S-Pen, etc. are some of the moves that Samsung has taken to maintain its market share in the high-end segment. Moreover, Samsung has increased the outsourcing portion of its device manufacturing in order to make its mid-range and low-end models more cost competitive. However, advances in device design and manufacturing will only intensify the competition in developed markets. In the emerging markets, demand will continue to concentrate on entry-level models. Hence, Samsung will have increasing difficulty in growing its market share as most of its offering do not target the demand for entry-level products. This also means that retaining market share will become more challenging for the brand.
Apple is set to release the latest model in its iPhone SE lineup (i.e., the third-generation SE), featuring a 4.7-inch display, A15 SoC, and 5G support, by the end of 1Q22. Other than these features, the rest of the new SE’s hardware specifications will be similar to those of the second-gen SE. In this regard, the new SE can be seen as an invaluable asset with which Apple attempts to enter the mid-range 5G smartphone segment. In 2H22, the company will keep to its tradition of announcing four new models, two of which will feature a 6.1-inch display, while the other two will feature a 6.7-inch display. Although the release of these five new handsets will likely help Apple increase its market share next year, this increase will be constrained by the fact that Apple will have to raise the retail price of its smartphones in order to keep up with rising component prices and ensure some profitability. TrendForce therefore expects Apple’s smartphone production for 2022 to reach 243 million units, representing a 5.4% YoY growth and the second highest volume among all smartphone brands.
Given that demand will unlikely increase by a significant margin in the domestic Chinese smartphone market next year, the three major Chinese brands, including OPPO, Xiaomi, and Vivo, will primarily depend on overseas sales for their smartphone market share growths. It should be pointed out that TrendForce’s calculation of Xiaomi’s production volume also includes handsets released by the brand’s subsidiaries Mi, Redmi, POCO, and Black Shark. Thanks to Xiaomi’s relatively early expansion in the overseas markets, as the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic is gradually brought under control, Xiaomi is expected to benefit the growth of its overseas sales and register a smartphone production of 220 million units, representing a 15.8% YoY growth and the third highest volume among all brands.
Fourth-ranked OPPO sells its smartphones globally under three brands: OPPO, Realme, and OnePlus. TrendForce expects OPPO group’s annual smartphone production for 2022 to reach 208 million units, a 2.5% YoY growth. Regarding product planning, OPPO is relatively similar compared with Xiaomi, as both of these brands differentiate between various markets and client bases through subsidiaries. Likewise, OPPO has in recent years actively expanded its peripheral ecosystem businesses, such as software services and additional consumer items, in order to improve its profitability for the year. Finally, Vivo will take the fifth rank next year by producing almost 150 million handsets, a 6.4% YoY growth. This brand depends heavily on its customers’ cyclical replacement demand for its sales. Therefore, while the Chinese smartphone market, which is Vivo’s primary sales region, becomes increasingly saturated, the brand’s room for growth next year will also be relatively limited. In addition, as HONOR will also aggressively look to capture market shares in China, the production volumes of OPPO and Vivo will be further constrained next year.
Annual 5G smartphone production for 2022 is expected to reach about 660 million units despite slowing growth rate
Thanks to the Chinese government’s active push for 5G commercialization for the past two years, the global market share of 5G smartphones will likely hit 37.4% in 2021, with about 500 million units produced throughout the year. Going forward, now that the market share of 5G smartphones has surpassed 80% in China, the smartphone industry will shift its focus of 5G development to other regional markets. However, because countries vary in the progress of 5G infrastructure build-out, and 5G service plan fees are higher than 4G fees, the growth of 5G market share now appears to be slowing. As such, TrendForce expects 5G smartphone production for 2022 to reach about 660 million units, translating to a market share of 47.5% for 5G handsets in the overall smartphone market.
On the other hand, the growing market share of 5G smartphones also generates a corresponding growing demand for components. Given the increased shipment in servers, IoT devices, and EVs, foundries will find it even harder to manufacture enough components for 5G handsets since foundry capacities are already stretched to their limits. What this also means is that the market share of smartphone brands will depend on how successful they are in booking foundry capacities. Smartphone brands’ scramble for foundry capacities, however, may in turn result in overbookings or uneven allocation of capacities to components, thereby further exacerbating the mismatched availability of smartphone components. Hence, if the actual demand from smartphone buyers falls short of expectations, TrendForce believes that smartphone brands may be forced to adjust their inventories once again in 2H22.
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By leveraging advantages such as lifelike interaction and virtual simulation, the metaverse will enable the growth of various applications ranging from virtual meetings, digital modeling and analysis, to virtual communities, gaming, and content creation, in the infancy of its development. According to TrendForce’s latest investigations, constructing the metaverse, which is more complex than the existing internet world, requires more powerful data processing cores, networking environments capable of transferring enormous data, and user-side AR/VR devices with improved display performances. These requirements will further drive forward the development of memory products, advanced process technologies, 5G telecommunications, and display technologies.
Regarding memory products, the conceptual framework of the metaverse is heavily contingent on the support provided by compute nodes. The data center industry will therefore experience more catalysts brought about by the metaverse, and there will be a corresponding growth in micro-servers and edge processing applications. The metaverse will also require an increase in the performance of storage devices. This means that SSDs, which are substantially faster than HDDs in writing data, will become an indispensable storage solution. On the DRAM front, take VR devices as an example; most existing devices are equipped with 4GB LPDRAM, which has the dual advantage of low power consumption and high performance. In the short run, manufacturers will not plan to massively upgrade the applications processors in these devices, which also operate in relatively simple processing environments. Hence, the growth in VR devices’ DRAM density will remain relatively stable. In terms of storage, on the other hand, because most AR/VR devices are equipped with Qualcomm chips whose specifications closely resemble those of flagship smartphone SoCs, AR/VR devices will also feature UFS 3.1 solutions.
Regarding advanced process technologies, the integration of AI and the increase in demand for computing power have resulted in a corresponding demand for high-performance chips, which enable improved graphics rendering and computation of massive amounts of data. Advanced process technologies allow the production of high-performance chips that deliver enhancements in performance, power consumption, and chip size. The realization of the metaverse requires high-performance chips for data and graphics processing, so high-performance CPUs and GPUs will assume key roles in this regard. TrendForce’s investigations indicate that, with respect to CPUs, the current mainstream products from Intel and AMD are manufactured at the Intel 7 node (equivalent to the 10nm node) and TSMC’s 7nm node, respectively, and the two companies will migrate to TSMC’s 3nm and 5nm nodes in 2022. With regards to GPUs, AMD’s wafer input plans for GPUs are basically in lockstep with its plans for CPUs, whereas Nvidia has been inputting wafers at TSMC’s 7nm node and Samsung’s 8nm node. Nvidia is currently planning to input wafers at the 5nm node, and the resultant GPUs will likely be released to market in early 2023.
Regarding networking and telecommunications, due to the metaverse’s demand for virtual interactions that are instant, lifelike, and stable, greater attention will be paid to the bandwidth and latency of data transmissions. 5G communication is able to meet this demand as it features high bandwidth, low latency, and support for a greater number of connected devices. Hence, the arrival of the metaverse will likely bring about the commercialization of 5G-related technologies at an increasingly rapid pace. Notably, some of these 5G technologies that are set to become the backbone of network environments powering the metaverse include SA (standalone) 5G networks, which delivers greater flexibility via network slicing; MEC (multi-access edge computing), which increases the computing capabilities of the cloud; and TSN (time sensitive networking), which improves the reliability of data transmissions. In addition, 5G networks will also be combined with Wi-Fi 6 in order to extend the range of indoor wireless connections. In light of their importance in enabling the metaverse, all of these aforementioned technologies have become major drivers of network service development in recent years.
Regarding display technologies, the immersive experiences of VR/AR devices depend on the integration of higher resolutions and refresh rates. In particular, an increase in resolution will receive much more attention in the market now that Micro LED and Micro OLED technologies have gained gradual adoption as display technologies shrink in terms of physical dimensions. As well, the traditional 60Hz refresh rate can no longer satisfy the visual demands of advanced display applications, meaning display solutions with higher than 120Hz refresh rates will become the mainstream going forward. In addition, the metaverse’s emphasis on interactivity demands display technologies that are not limited by traditional physical designs. The market for flexible display panels, which allow for free form factors, is expected to benefit as a result. At the same time, the metaverse is also expected to generate some demand for transparent displays, which serve as an important interface between the virtual world and real life.
Owing to persistently strong demand for notebook panels and increased supply of such upstream components as ICs and TCONs, quarterly notebook panel shipment reached yet another historical high in 3Q21, with 72.27 million pcs shipped, representing an increase of 7.1% QoQ, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations.
TrendForce indicates that the proliferation of the stay-at-home economy resulted in record-setting performances from the notebook panel market, in which quarterly shipment reached historical highs for three quarters consecutively across the 1Q21-3Q21 period. Nevertheless, market demand for panels has shown partial signs of weakening. Demand remains strong for commercial notebooks but has begun plummeting for consumer notebooks and Chromebooks. Alongside this drop in Chromebook demand, 11.6-inch panels, which are the mainstream size of Chromebook displays, have also dropped in terms of shipment volumes, reaching only 10.88 million pcs shipped in 3Q21, a 28.3% QoQ decline. Quarterly shipment of Chromebook panels is expected to undergo a further decrease in 4Q21. In addition, given the aforementioned strong demand for commercial notebooks, panel suppliers have quickly transitioned their focus towards 14-inch and 15.6-inch panels in response, and the combined quarterly shipment of both of these sizes reached 46.45 million pcs in 3Q21, a 20.2% QoQ increase. The bullish performance of these sizes of notebook panels thereby became the key reason behind the historical high in notebook panel shipment in 3Q21.
Due to panel suppliers’ swift response to changes in the market, notebook panel shipment for 2H21 is not expected to be overly impacted by the weakening demand for Chromebooks and consumer notebooks. For now, TrendForce projects notebook panel shipment for 4Q21 to reach 71.15 million pcs, while shipment for the entire 2021 is expected to reach 278.1 million pcs, a 23.2% YoY increase. Looking ahead to 2022 and regarding the supply side of the panel market, most panel suppliers will be aggressive in their shipment plans for notebook panels due to the massive growth in notebook panel shipment across the 2020-2021 period. As such, panel suppliers are planning to ship about 330 million pcs of notebook panels in 2022. However, if a corresponding demand for notebooks fails to emerge next year, the notebook panel market may enter into an oversupply situation, thereby placing downward pressure on panel prices. Regarding the demand side of the panel market, demand for Chromebooks and consumer notebooks will likely continue to slow down next year, but this slowdown will be accompanied by a corresponding growth in commercial notebook demand due to the persistent growth of the overall economy, along with the global digital transformation also taking place. Taking these factors into account, TrendForce expects annual notebook panel shipment for 2022 to reach 279 million pcs, representing a slight growth of 0.3% YoY.
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Apple recently unveiled its newest lineup of 14.2-inch and 16.2-inch MacBook Pros, which represent the company’s latest effort to extend its application of display backlights with Mini LED technology from the 12.9-inch iPad Pro to the MacBook Pro range. TrendForce’s latest investigations indicate that, in light of Apple’s foray into the high-end notebook computer market with the latest generation of MacBook Pro, annual shipment of notebook computers equipped with Mini LED backlight for 2022 will likely reach five million units, a 213% YoY increase.
It should be pointed out that, due to OLED supplier Samsung’s aggressive efforts to capture shares in the notebook market this year, annual shipment of notebooks with OLED panels for 2021 will likely reach 2.5 to 2.7 million units, which represents a penetration rate of about 1.1%. OLED displays compete directly with Mini LED displays in the high-end notebook market, meaning the adoption of Mini LED displays by non-Apple notebook manufacturers has consistently been limited. In addition, Apple waited until 4Q21 to release the new MacBook Pro models. Taking these factors into account, TrendForce is therefore revising its forecast of annual shipment of notebooks with Mini LED backlight for 2021 from 2.4 million units down to 1.65 million units.
TrendForce indicates that Apple’s product planning regarding the newest MacBook Pro lineup marks a departure from its previous strategy of having only a 13.3-inch model for the entry-level segment and a 16.2-inch model for the high-end segment, since the newest 14.2-inch MacBook is positioned as a product for the mid-range segment. Regarding pricing, the 14.2-inch model at base configuration costs US$500 more than the 13.3-inch model and US$500 less than the 16.2-inch model, assuming all aforementioned models are equipped with a 512GB SSD. Regarding technical specs, not only do the new models feature an improvement in CPU/GPU, but their backlight has also been upgraded to Mini LED technology. With these advancements in both computing power and display performance, Apple will likely be able to erase any doubts from consumers regarding the merit of the price hike.
Both of the new MacBook Pro models are equipped with a Mini LED backlight, with about 8,000-11,000 Mini LED chips divided across 2,000-2,600 local dimming zones, resulting in a 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio. Mainstream Mini LED backlight-equipped notebooks from other manufacturers, on the other hand, generally feature about 240-512 local dimming zones, thereby showing Apple’s relative superiority in display technology. Furthermore, despite being a step up in terms of display size from the 13.3-inch model, the 14.4-inch model maintains a similar thin and light profile even though it contains a direct-lit Mini LED backlight, which requires additional clearance for light mixing and additional PCB substrate thickness.
Along with Apple’s continued adoption of Mini LED backlight technology, a plethora of new participants are expected to enter the Mini LED supply chain in 2022, in turn making this technology much more cost-effective and benefitting companies that are not part of Apple’s supply chain as well. Companies that are set to benefit next year include Mini LED chip suppliers (e.g., Ennostar and Osram), testing and sorting service providers (e.g., FitTech, Saultech, and YTEC), SMT suppliers (e.g., TSMT and Yenrich), backplane PCB suppliers (e.g., Zhen Ding Tech, Tripod Technology, and Apex), driver IC suppliers (e.g., Parade, TI, Novatek, and Macroblock), light source module suppliers (e.g., Radiant/ROE and GIS), and OEMs (e.g., Quanta and Foxconn).
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