From the Chip Shortage to the Next Silicon Valley: Looking Back at 2021
As 2021 draws to a close, let's reflect on what this year brought to the table, both in the form of technology and industry trends.
Looking back at 2021, it's easy to see how wild of a year it's been.
We've seen lots of trends come and go but a few held strong the entire year. Of course, we saw a lot of new technology pop up, especially as quantum computing ramps up and electric vehicles (EVs) push to the next level. However, we also had some other interesting trends in the constant spotlight throughout this entire year.
In this article, let's see what 2021 has brought us.
New Audio Technology Was Music to Our Ears
Though this year had a flux of different technologies, like a banned ADAS (advanced driver-assistance system) headlight technology, and plenty of “world’s first” releases (like TI's DC/DC controller with built-in EMI), one product stood out a note above the rest: ROHM’s MUS-IC.
Example of ROHM's MUS-IC chipset. Image used courtesy of ROHM
New audio technology is typically few and far between, at least that could be interesting to audiophiles. This MUS-IC or audio IC is being included in high-end devices from the Luxman Corporation that aims to "sound natural."
More audio components and devices are definitely ones we would like to see more of in 2022. Fingers crossed!
The Chip Shortage Never Took a Day Off
It seems like every other time you look, something about the chip shortage is on the news. Though this trend started way before 2021, it's held strong and stayed a main staple of many news outlets. Whether it's automotive companies suffering or weird areas like cryptocurrency being affected, this shortage is being felt far and wide beyond just the semiconductor industry. Even the "gray market" full of counterfeit chips has been feeling the effect (though maybe not in the same way).
With this shortage's widespread effects, many solutions have been trickling in, hoping to put a stopper in the hole this has caused in the semiconductor industry. From supporting semiconductor labs over fabs to further government support, the world keeps trying to figure out the next right thing to ease the pain.
This shortage doesn’t seem to have an end in sight at this moment; however, we will see what 2022 has in store.
From the Ashes Rises In-house Chip Fabrication
Hoping to combat not only the chip shortage but also create more proprietary technology, some companies have been moving towards creating in-house chips versus using others (namely Intel's processors).
The main company headlining this movement is Apple with its M1 chip, which was released at the end of 2020. In 2021, Apple pushed out two new versions of the M1: the M1 Pro and M1 Max.
Apple's M1, M1 Pro, and M1 Max chipsets. Image used courtesy of Apple
Following along in Apple's footsteps, Google, with its Tensor SoC (system-on-a-chip) and Alibaba's with its new server chips have created their own in-house chipsets.
There are even rumors that Facebook might be looking into creating its own custom silicon.
With so many big-name companies investing and shifting towards in-house chip fabrication, more companies are sure to follow suit in 2022.
A Year Full of Mergers and Acquisitions
Mergers and acquisitions (M&As) happen constantly in the EE world.
A graph showing the value of semiconductor M&A agreements. Image used courtesy of IC Insights
Whether companies are snapping up startups who have a never before seen technology, or are trying to break out into a new space, these M&As have been peppering 2021 nearly every week.
A few noteworthy mentions are:
- Renesas acquires Dialog Semiconductor
- Analog Devices (ADI) acquires Maxim Integrated
- Qorvo acquires UnitedSiC
Though these were just drops in the bucket for M&As this year (there were even some niche RF-related acquisitions), one that was held in limbo since 2020 was the NVIDIA–Arm deal. Was it “dead in the water” or was the shoe going to drop before the year is up?
All in all, it looks like the deal may not go through, as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has recently deemed that it stifles competition.
As this year closes, there are sure to be more and more M&As in the future.
Searching for the Next Silicon Valley
This last year, one question that kept popping up is: "where are these companies moving to?" With the attempt to help "solve" the chip shortage and bring chip manufacturing and fabrication back to the U.S., many were wondering where the next Silicon Valley would take roots.
Back in February, it looked like maybe Arizona was bubbling up to become the newest "hotspot," but Texas has started to rush in and give it a run for its money.
Many companies were looking to break ground in these two states, so it will be interesting to see how these areas will develop or if any new places come up as the next possible top semiconductor fab location for 2022.
What Could 2022 Bring Us?
Since this year is all said and done, let's look forward and see what 2022 could possibly bring us.
Will we hear more about the endless chip shortage? More than likely.
Will we see more in-house chips come out of companies beyond Apple? That, too, is likely.
Will EEs continue to keep pushing technology to the next level and creating newer and better devices? Of course, you will!
What was the most interesting thing that came out of 2021? What do you think (or hope) 2022 will usher in? Let us know what you think in the comments down below!