Nvidia hosted its fall GTC (GPU Technology Conference) in early November, during which the company shared details regarding the progress that it had made on products and services such as AI software, data centers, automotive applications, and healthcare. In particular, Nvidia’s foray into virtual worlds and digital twins, both of which are closely tied to the metaverse, garnered significant attention from the public. By leveraging diverse simulation tools that reflect real-life circumstances, Nvidia has extended the application of virtual worlds from the local scale to the planetary scale, thereby reflecting the metaverse’s pioneering qualities and developmental progress.
Along with the ongoing metaverse craze, Nvidia also released its Omniverse Avatar technology platform as well as its Omniverse Replicator, which is a “synthetic data-generation engine” according to the company. Both of these releases are based on the Nvidia Omniverse, a platform that specializes in virtual collaboration. Whereas the Omniverse Avatar platform enables the creation of interactive virtual characters through synergies among voice AI technology, machine vision, and NLP (natural language processing), the Omniverse Replicator constructs more realistic, lifelike virtual worlds by training DNN (deep neural networks) using such synthetic data as velocity, depth, and weather conditions.
Digital twin-based virtual factories are starting to show the first hints of the metaverse
The metaverse value chain primarily revolves around commonly seen infrastructural backbones formed by telecommunications and cloud/edge computing. The virtual space that is then built on top of this infrastructure comprises HMI (human machine interface), decentralization, application creation, and user experiences. More specifically, HMI produces an AI-empowered immersive experience by combining multiple interactive technologies with an AR/VR base layer. At the moment, companies such as Nvida, Meta (formerly known as Facebook), Microsoft (including Xbox), and Vive are heavily invested in HMI development. Application creation, on the other hand, refers to mechanisms that make the metaverse more lively, reliable, diverse, and attractive. Some examples include graphical tools and cryptocurrency technologies. Representative groups focusing on this field include Roblox, IBM, Google AI, Epic, and Unity.
Regarding the content of Nvidia’s presentation during GTC apart from the Omniverse Avatar and Replicator, the company also released CloudXR, Showroom, and other Omniverse-based tools used for optimizing immersive experiences. As well, Nvidia also released the Modulus neural network model, which is accelerates the build-out of digital twins. These releases, in turn, demonstrates Nvidia’s competency and leadership in creating AI-driven software tools for the metaverse value chain. With regards to real-life use cases, digital twins currently represent most of Nvidia’s applications. For instance, BMW and Nvidia have partnered to construct a digital twin-based factory via the Omniverse platform capable of connecting ERP (enterprise resource management), shipment volume simulation, remote-controlled robots, production line simulation, etc. This partnership is indicative of promising early-stage growth of the metaverse.
Nvidia is extending its simulation application from factories to planets
While smart city development has remained one of the main use cases of simulation in recent years, Nvidia has further extended its simulation applications from use cases previously limited to singular offices or factory facilities. For instance, BIM (building information modeling) specialist Bentley Systems has teamed up with Nvidia to apply digital twins to public property management and maintenance. Ericsson, on the other hand, is utilizing Nvidia’s technology to construct a digital replica of an entire city for the purpose of checking 5G signal coverages, optimizing base station placement, and improving antenna designs. During the GTC, Nvidia unveiled the Earth-2 system, which is a supercomputer that generates a digital twin of planet earth for weather forecasts.
As a matter of fact, most products and services announced by Nvidia during GTC represent either a partial or entry-level application of the metaverse. However, as the post-pandemic new normal continues to drive up the demand for contactless and digital transformation applications, strengthening CPS (cyber physical systems) will remain one of the most significant trends in the market. As real-world environments become increasingly complex due to interactions among an increasing number of tools and use cases, Nvidia will aim to create a comprehensive framework for metaverse development through products/services based on more intelligent, comprehensive, and instant virtual worlds. Hence, TrendForce believes that Nvidia will need to address certain major challenges going forward, including lowering its tools’ usage barriers, strengthening its ecosystem, and attracting new users.
The growth of the NAND Flash market in 3Q21 was primarily driven by strong demand from the data center and smartphone industries, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. More specifically, NAND Flash suppliers’ hyperscaler and enterprise clients kept up their procurement activities that began in 2Q21 in order to deploy products based on new processor platforms. Major smartphone brands, on the other hand, likewise expanded their NAND Flash procurement activities during the quarter as they prepared to release their new flagship models. As such, clients in both server and smartphone industries made significant contributions to the revenue growth of the NAND Flash industry for 3Q21. At the same time, however, suppliers also warned that orders from PC OEMs began showing signs of decline. On the whole, the industry’s quarterly total NAND Flash bit shipment increased by nearly 11% QoQ for 3Q21, and the overall NAND Flash ASP rose by nearly 4% QoQ for the same quarter. Thanks to rising prices and expanding shipments, the quarterly total NAND Flash revenue increased by 15% QoQ to a new record high of US$18.8 billion in 3Q21.
Moving into 4Q21, the impact of the ongoing component gaps has widened to numerous application segments of the NAND Flash market as the capacity crunch in the foundry market remains unresolved. Currently, NAND Flash components are in abundance relative to other kinds of key components. For OEMs and ODMs, the differences between the NAND Flash inventory level and the inventory levels of other components have been growing over the past several months. Therefore, they have to scale back orders and reduce stock for NAND Flash. As inventory adjustments are happening, NAND Flash contract prices will start to drop and thus bring about an end to the several quarters of strong revenue growth enjoyed by suppliers.
Owing to procurement demand from hyperscalers and smartphone brands, the NAND Flash market generally remained in shortage in 3Q21, thereby driving up Samsung’s ASP by 10% QoQ. Even so, Samsung’s NAND Flash bit shipment increased by only about 5% QoQ due to weakening demand from PC OEMs and low inventory levels of certain other components carried by Samsung’s clients. Samsung’s NAND Flash revenue for 3Q21 reached US$6.51 billion, a 16.5% QoQ increase.
Although orders from PC OEMs began to wane, Kioxia still benefitted from orders from its major smartphone and data center clients in 3Q21, during which Kioxia’s NAND Flash bit shipment underwent a major QoQ increase exceeding 15%. As the NAND Flash market remained in a shortage situation, Kioxia’s ASP increased by about 4% QoQ, resulting in a revenue of US$3.64 billion, which represents a 20.8% QoQ increase and the highest single-quarter revenue in Kioxia’s history.
Among all NAND Flash suppliers in 3Q21, SK hynix registered the highest growth in bit shipment at more than 20% QoQ. This performance can be attributed to several reasons: the cyclical upturn in procurement activities from smartphone brands, persistently strong demand from the data center segment, and inventory-clearing by SK hynix in anticipation of weak demand in the upcoming off-season. Thanks to an ASP increase of about 5% QoQ, SK hynix’s NAND Flash revenue for 3Q21 reached US$2.54 billion, a 25.6% QoQ increase.
Although Western Digital’s PC OEM clients reduced their SSD orders due to supply chain disruptions, and demand from the retail end also remained weak, Western Digital was able to increase its NAND Flash bit shipment by 8% QoQ in 3Q21 due to enterprise SSD demand from the data center segment and NAND Flash demand from smartphone brands for the release of new smartphone models. Nevertheless, Western Digital’s ASP fell by 3% QoQ because the company increasingly focused on major clients and high-density products. Western Digital’s NAND Flash revenue for 3Q21 reached US$2.49 billion, a 2.9% QoQ increase.
Demand from the data center segment remained strong, and clients continued to adopt Micron’s 176L products. However, Micron’s shipment share in the smartphone market lagged behind that of other NAND Flash suppliers. Furthermore, its PC OEM clients were starting to be affected by the uneven supply of semiconductor chips. In light of these factors, Micron’s NAND Flash bit shipment increased by a modest 4% QoQ. On the other hand, the NAND Flash market remained in a severe shortage in 3Q21, thereby driving up Micron’s ASP by about 5% QoQ. Hence, Micron’s NAND Flash revenue for 3Q21 reached US$1.97 billion, an 8.8% QoQ increase.
Although persistently strong demand from the data center segment led to a massive price hike for enterprise SSDs and a nearly 6% increase in Intel’s ASP in 3Q21, the company was unable to fully meet its client demand since it could not procure sufficient upstream components. This lack of upstream components resulted in a severe decline of about 5% QoQ in Intel’s NAND Flash bit shipments and offset the upward momentum generated by an increase in Intel’s ASP. Intel’s NAND Flash revenue for 3Q21 reached a mere US$1.11 billion, a slight 0.6% QoQ increase.
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Microsoft announced in early November that it will release the preview of Mesh for Microsoft Teams (henceforth referred to as simply “Mesh”) in 1H22 as a chat and collaborative platform for the metaverse. By providing a virtual meeting space, in which Teams users can conduct meetings, chat, work collaboratively, and share documents, Mesh is set to become an entrance to the metaverse.
Community interactions will serve as a starting point for metaverse development
Microsoft first unveiled Microsoft Mesh during its Ignite 2021 event in March. This platform supports applications including HoloLens Mesh and Altspace VR, with more Microsoft Teams services to be released in the future. By announcing ahead of time that the preview version of Mesh will be released in 2022, Microsoft is hoping to leverage the recent emergence of topics related to the metaverse in order to increase its customers’ engagement with the new functionalities of Mesh. Hence, the company is positioning Mesh as an entrance into the metaverse by first attracting users through functions such as teleconferencing, collaboration, and chat. Microsoft will then gradually add to the number of applications and services in the virtual reality, thereby eventually constructing a complete virtual world.
Judging from the current progress of development, TrendForce believes that social communities, teleconferencing, and virtual meetings will become AR/VR applications most attractive to consumers. That is also why companies currently developing AR/VR solutions regard these applications as the starting point of metaverse development. These applications’ trending importance can primarily be attributed to the two reasons of demand and supply. Regarding the demand side, not only has the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic brought about significant growths in teleconferencing and remote interaction usages, but there has also been a gradual change in how people interact in internet-based communities. More specifically, this change refers to a shift in interactions from texts, images, and videos to virtual avatars. As a result, the consumer market is expected to have a relatively high acceptance for AR/VR-driven community interactions and teleconferences. Regarding the supply side, on the other hand, service providers that operate social media and teleconference platforms drastically differ from the typical hardware brands in terms of product strategy, since these providers generally aim to first create a massive user base rather than deriving profits from a single product. As such, these providers are comparatively more willing to invest massive resources into expanding their presence in the market during the initial phase even though doing so may potentially incur financial losses.
R&D and release of device hardware will become the most significant challenge for platform service providers
For Microsoft, Mesh represents a starting point, not only towards the development of the metaverse, but also one that requires investment in more areas, since the metaverse requires the realization of a virtual world that is more immersive and lifelike. Apart from Microsoft’s existing competencies in cloud services and OS software, the company still needs to achieve a sense of realism in the virtual avatars and interactions that it creates, and these creations need to reflect changes made by the user. For instance, the mouth and facial expressions of virtual avatars need to be able to instantly adapt as their users speak, and this process involves not only software adjustments, but also the integration of sensors and other hardware devices. As long as hardware brands require that their individual products remain profitable, Microsoft will find it difficult to hand over the responsibility of hardware-related technological R&D and product releases to the hardware brands. Unless Microsoft is willing to provide sufficiently high subsidies and absorb all financial losses, it will inevitably release its self-designed consumer AR/VR devices – for the same reason that Meta (also known as Facebook) acquired Oculus, and ByteDance acquired Pico. On the other hand, crossing over to the hardware market represents entering an industry that is yet to mature and that requires investment into multiple technologies. Platform service providers will therefore need to invest more resources into hardware development, and this remains one of the challenges Microsoft faces after entering the metaverse.
As the global vaccination rate rose, and border restrictions in Europe and North America eased, social activities also began to enter a period of recovery, with the consumer electronics market seemingly ready for the arrival of the traditional peak season in 2H21, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. At the same time, however, the global supply chain was affected by delays in maritime transport, skyrocketing shipping costs, and component shortages, in addition to already-prohibitive price hikes for certain components in 1H21. Given the parallel rise in both material and manufacturing costs, the market for end products has not undergone the expected cyclical upturn in 2H21. Even so, the overall demand for and shipment of smartphones, notebook computers, and monitors experienced QoQ increases in 3Q21, thereby driving up businesses for major OSAT (outsourced semiconductor assembly and test) companies. For 3Q21, the revenues of the top 10 OSAT companies reached US$8.89 billion, a 31.6% YoY increase.
Certain major OSAT companies experienced a slight dip in their capacity utilization rates due to the ongoing shortage of key components including chips and substrates, as well as the electricity rationing that limited both energy intensity and energy consumption in Jiangsu, Zhejiang, and Guangdong at the end of September. Nevertheless, this dip has had virtually no impact on the OSAT industry because certain OSAT companies shifted their operations to substrate-less packaging technologies and reallocated the previously affected capacities. Hence, TrendForce is bullish on the performance of the OSAT industry in 4Q21.
Market leaders ASE and Amkor registered revenues of US$2.15 billion and US$1.68 billion, which represent YoY increases of 41.3% and 24.2%, respectively, for 3Q21. While both companies had some of their capacities hindered due to the shortage of chips, lead frames, and substrates, ASE had its lead times further extended given that its Suzhou-based fab was affected by China’s power rationing. Notably, as the demand for packaging and testing smartphone APs, network chips, and automotive chips remains strong in 4Q21, ASE and Amkor will continue to expand in the 5G, IoT, and AI end-product markets in 2022.
SPIL is currently aiming to strengthen the R&D operations for advanced packaging technologies at its new fab in Erlin, Changhua, since it will be unlikely to compensate for the loss of smartphone AP packaging business from Huawei in the short run. SPIL’s revenue for 3Q21 reached US$1.04 billion, a 15.6% YoY increase. While KYEC previously suffered lowered capacity utilization due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has since made a gradual recovery and registered a revenue of US$323 million, a 28.5% YoY increase, for 3Q21, thanks to testing orders for 5G chips from Qualcomm and MediaTek. PTI, on the other hand, primarily benefitted from its DRAM packaging and testing business. The company posted a revenue of US$802 million, a 24.0% YoY increase, for 3Q21. Nonetheless, PTI’s memory packaging capacity will likely undergo a sharp decline going forward, as Intel gradually finalizes the sale of its Dalian fab to SK Hynix by 2025, and the agreement between Micron and PTI regarding the assembly and testing services PTI provides at Micron’s Xi’an fab expires in 2Q22. In response, PTI reallocated some capacities at its new fab in Hsinchu to other strategic priorities such as CIS packaging and FOPLP technologies in 3Q21.
Major Chinese OSAT companies JCET and Hua Tian continued to benefit from China’s pursuit of domestic semiconductor substitutes. The two companies expanded their supply of OSAT services for 5G smartphones, base stations, automotive chips, and consumer electronics. As a result, JCET and Hua Tian registered revenues of US$1.25 billion and US$502 million, representing YoY growths of 27.5% and 57.6%, respectively, for 3Q21. Owing to strong sales by its client AMD this year, TFME recorded a revenue of US$636 million, an impressive 59.8% YoY increase, which represents the highest revenue growth among the top 10 OSAT companies in 3Q21.
Although ChipMOS and Chipbond, which specialize in packaging and testing display panel driver ICs, were affected by the slight drop in small-sized TV panel shipment in 3Q21, they were able to compensate for this loss owing to the gradual increase in packaging and testing demand for such driver ICs as TDDI and DDI. This increase can primarily be attributed to the growing demand for mid- and large-sized TV panels, as well as the ramp-up of OLED smartphone panels, which certain smartphone models began to adopt. For 3Q21, ChipMOS and Chipbond grew their respectively revenue by 32.5% YoY and 29.5% YoY to about US$257 million and US$255 million. At the same time, as IC design companies from the upstream supply chain redirected certain orders to ChipMOS and Chipbond in response to China’s power rationing at the end of September, these two companies will likely reach new revenue records in 4Q21.
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Quarterly TV shipment for 3Q21 reached 52.51 million units, representing an 8.3% QoQ increase but a 14.7% YoY decrease, according to TrendForce’s latest investigations. Demand for TVs was constrained during the quarter by the increase in various country’s vaccination rates as well as the rising retail prices of TV sets, resulting in a YoY shipment decline despite the arrival of the peak season. It should be noted that prices of TV panels began to plummet in August, and this price drop enabled Chinese TV brands to both expand sales during the Singles’ Day (November 11) shopping festival and in turn make up for deficits in their yearly sales targets. Global brands, on the other hand, will be unable to capitalize on the price drop of TV panels by reflecting this cost-savings on their TV sets’ retail prices until 1Q22 due to factors such as production, transportation, and inventory adjustments. These brands are therefore having a difficult time increasing their TV shipment for 4Q21. Quarterly TV shipment for 4Q21 is expected to reach 59.13 million units, representing a 12.6% QoQ increase but an 10.3% YoY decrease. TV shipment for 2H21 will therefore likely be among the lowest compared to shipment volumes for second halves of previous years historically.
TrendForce further indicates that TV manufacturers’ shipment performances have been weakening this year as the market approaches the year’s end. Stimulus checks issued in the US resulted in persistently high TV shipment in North America in 1H21, with brands maintaining their procurement of TV panels, thereby driving up the prices of TV panels as a result. As the COVID-19 pandemic is gradually brought under control, and everyday life returns to normalcy in Europe and North America in 2H21, the pandemic-generated upswing in TV sales subsequently lost momentum. Furthermore, while prices of raw materials and transportation/logistics services remained sky-high, manufacturing costs of whole TV sets also underwent a sharp climb and were then transferred to consumers. Taken together, these factors quickly wiped out market demand for TVs. TrendForce therefore expects annual TV shipment for 2021 to reach 210 million units, a 3.2% YoY decline.
With a forecasted annual shipment of 6.8 million units for 2021, OLED TVs have become favored by various brands amidst rising manufacturing costs of TV sets
TV brands face various manufacturing-related challenges this year. Not only have panel costs, which account for the largest share of TV sets’ manufacturing costs, undergone an increase, but port congestions have also led to rising shipping costs and an extended lead time before TV sets can be delivered for retail sale. In addition to an uneven availability of various components, these aforementioned obstacles all exacerbate the risks involved with TV brands’ shipment. In a bid to maximize profits, however, brands have been making a concentrated effort to ensure that the production of OLED TVs remained free from disruptions in an effort to maximize profits.
As brands shift the focus of their sales efforts to OLED TVs, OLED TV shipment for 2021 is expected to reach 6.8 million units, a 72.8% YoY increase. This growth can primarily be attributed to an increase in OLED TV supply due to the expanded production capacity of LGD’s production line in Guangzhou, as well as the narrowing difference between LCD panel prices and OLED panel prices due to the sharp rise in the former in 1H21. In particular, LGE is set to take leadership position with an over 60% market share and a 91% YoY growth in its OLED TV shipment. Trailing behind in second place is Sony, which has been sourcing OLED panels from LGD. The Japanese company is expected to register a 53% YoY increase in shipment and possess a 20% market share. Panasonic, on the other hand, comfortably took third place with a 7% market share. Notably, Xiaomi and Sharp are the two dark horses with regards to OLED TV shipment this year with explosive YoY growths of 900% and 140%, respectively.
Major brands will concentrate on the high-end and large-sized segments, while smaller brands will continue to steadily develop mainstream products
While demand in the TV market recovers as the pandemic runs its course, TrendForce expects 45% and 55% of the total annual TV shipment for 2022 to take place in 1H22 and 2H22, respectively. TV shipment for 2022 will likely reach 217 million units, a 3.3% YoY increase, as brands are able to aggressively ramp up their TV shipments thanks to not only an undisrupted supply of panels, but also gradually stabilizing prices. For major brands, their focus will be on medium-sized and large-sized products and on products with substantial added values. Hence, the market share of large-sized TVs (including 65-inch and above models) will for the first time ever surpass 20%, with medium-sized (40-inch to 59-inch models) TVs remaining at a 55% market share. Although major brands are gradually exiting the small-sized segment, and smaller brands will have an easier time expanding their presence in emerging markets owing to gradually stabilizing prices, small-sized (39-inch and below models) TVs will see their market share drop by 1.8% next year to 25%. In any case, the primary target markets for major brands and smaller brands will not overlap next year.
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