Internet of Things Bubble?

Speaking at the World Business Forum in Sydney, Australia in May, Steve Wonziak (cofounder of Apple) said about the Internet of Things : “I feel it’s kind of like a bubble, because there is a pace at which human beings can change the way they do things. There are tons of companies starting up.” According to market research firm Gartner, the Internet of Things (IoT) is “the network of physical objects that contain embedded technology to communicate and sense or interact with their internal states or the external environment.”

The obvious comparison to a potential IoT bubble is the Internet bubble in the 1990s. The bursting of the Internet bubble in 2000 put many marginal companies out of business and led to major declines in the stock market value of all Internet related companies. However it did not change the inevitable trend of the Internet becoming pervasive in our lives. The same is probably true of IoT. Some companies and technologies are overhyped and could crash and burn in a market correction. However the trend is inevitable – devices will increasingly communicate with the Internet, many without any human interaction.

How big with IoT be in the next few years? There is surprising agreement among forecasters.

Internet of Things Installed Base, Billions of Units




Gartner, Nov. 2014



McKinsey, Dec. 2014



Business Insider, April 2015



PwC, May 2015



IDC, June 2015



The consulting and market research firms are closer in their projections for 2019-2020 (23 billion to 30 billion unit installed base) than they are in their estimates of 2014 (3 billion to 10 billion). My theorem about high technology markets is the forecasters are always closer to each other than they are to the final reality. This is not surprising since the companies are operating with the same general set of assumptions. Unforeseen events often drive the market higher or lower than the consensus forecast.

The IoT is made up of numerous devices across many applications. The media focuses on consumer purchased devices such as wearables and connected home devices. The hype was obvious at International CES 2015 in January. The top two categories for exhibitor press releases were wearables and connected home.

However most of the IoT is driven by business and government. Business Insider estimates in 2019 about 74% of the IoT installed base will be business and government applications and about 26% will be consumer applications. IDC expects digital signage will be the biggest IoT growth driver in 2015. Businesses and government can usually justify IoT investment with eventual cost savings. A utility company can rationalize the cost of installing smart electric meters at their customer sites will pay off with the savings in not sending human meter readers to each location every month.

Consumer IoT applications will continue to command most of the media attention. Business Insider project about one-third of the 6 billion unit IoT installed base among consumers will be connected home devices, including energy, security and appliances. Another key consumer IoT driver is wearable devices which can monitor health, fitness and activity. They can also be an interface to a smartphone. Wearable devices are primarily worn on the wrist – including smart watches and bands.

Prognosticators are also remarkably close in their projections for the wearable device market in four years. Estimates of the 2019 wearable device market are in a narrow range of 145 to 156 million units.

Global Wearable Device Market, Millions of Units



Analysis Mason, Sep. 2014


Business Insider, May 2015


IDC, June 2015



Two high profile wearable devices are the Apple Watch, launched on April 24, and the Fitbit Charge HR, launched on January 6 at CES. Fitbit is the global leader in wearable devices, with 34% share in first quarter 2015 according to IDC. The Apple Watch is being “watched” closely due to Apple’s success in redefining markets with its iPad and iPhone. Slice Intelligence estimates 3 million Apple watches were sold online in the U.S. in the three months from April 10 (the first day of pre-orders) through July 10. Slice Intelligence estimated Fitbit sold 850 thousand total devices in U.S. online sales in May, beating Apple Watch sales of 777 thousand devices. Apple Watch is expected to be a major factor in total year 2015 wearable devices sales, with estimated share of to 27% (CCS Insight) to 40% (Business Insider).

Apple watch 1
How will wearables affect the semiconductor market? IHS estimated the costs of the components in an Apple Watch Sport at $81. We at semiconductor Intelligence estimate the semiconductor portion of the cost at $50, 14% of the watch retail price of $349. IHS estimated the component costs of an iPhone 6 at $196. We estimate semiconductor content at $130 for the iPhone 6, 20% of the retail price of the phone.

Below are IDC’s recent projections of unit shipments of PCs, tablets/2-in1 devices, smartphones and wearables for 2019 compared to 2014. Smartphones will continue as the dominant device people use to connect to the Internet, with an expected 1.9 billion units shipped worldwide in 2019. The combined total for PCs and tablets in 2019 is 563 million units, a slight increase from 539 million in 2014. Wearable devices are forecast to show six-fold growth from 26 million units in 2014 to 156 million in 2019. Even with the strong growth, wearables shipments will be less than one-tenth of smartphones in 2019 and less than either PCs or tablets. The semiconductor content of wearables per device will continue to be significantly less than in the other devices.


Earlier this month Gartner forecast wearable devices will account for only one percent of the semiconductor market in 2019. The total IoT semiconductor market will be more significant, with Gartner data showing it could account for eight percent of the semiconductor market in 2019.

The Internet of Things may not be the “Next Big Thing” to drive the semiconductor market, but it does represent a meaningful growth opportunity. The key semiconductor products in IoT devices are sensors, microcontrollers, processors and communication & connectivity devices. IoT devices will also drive a market for systems and infrastructure to support the devices. If there is an IoT bubble, it is more likely to slowly deflate than burst. Many companies currently focusing on IoT will go out of business, but the remaining companies will have an opportunity to profit from a strong growth market.

Growth drivers shifting to emerging economies

Global real gross domestic product (GDP) growth in 2015 is expected to be 3.5%, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) April 2015 report. 2015 is a slight acceleration of 0.1 percentage points from 3.4% growth in 2014. The IMF projects 2016 global growth of 3.8%, an acceleration of 0.3 percentage points from 2015. The table below shows GDP growth and acceleration/deceleration for advanced economies and emerging/developing economies. Key countries are listed under each category.

The advanced economies are expected to provide the growth acceleration in 2015. The United States, the largest economy accounting for about 23% of global GDP, is the largest contributor to the 2015 acceleration with GDP growth moving from 2.4% in 2014 to 3.1% in 2015 – accelerating 0.7 points. The Euro Area countries combined are the second largest economy and the second largest contributor to the global acceleration. Japan’s recovery from a 0.1% decline in 2014 to 1.1% growth in 2015 is the third major factor in accelerating GDP growth.

GDP Apr15

The emerging/developing economies as a whole are expected to show deceleration of 0.3 points, from 4.6% in 2014 to 4.3% in 2015. However these same countries drive the acceleration of global GDP growth in 2016 with 0.4 points of acceleration. Russia is in a major recession in 2015 with a forecast GDP decline of 3.8%, but begins to recover in 2016 with a 1.1% decline. Thus Russia contributes to global GDP acceleration in 2016 by being less of a drag on the economy than in 2015. South America shows a similar effect, led by Brazil and Argentina.

China has been a major driver of global economic growth for several years. Although China’s GDP is still expected to grow at almost twice the global rate, growth is projected to slow from 7.4% in 2014 to 6.8% in 2015 and 6.3% in 2016. India’s GDP growth is forecast to accelerate from 7.2% in 2014 to 7.5% in 2015 and hold at 7.5% in 2016. Thus India will replace China as the fastest growing major economy. The ASEAN-5 countries (Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam), the Middle East & Africa and Mexico also contribute to global GDP acceleration.

The overall message from the table is the advanced economies have recovered from slow growth in 2014 to close to long term growth rates in 2015 and 2016. The emerging/developing economies are still growing faster than the advanced economies, but growth leadership is shifting from China to India and Southeast Asia.

What is the impact on the electronics and semiconductor markets of these trends? The May 2015 smartphone forecast from market research firm GfK shows near term growth will depend on emerging regions, excluding China. Global smartphone unit growth is projected to slow to 10% in 2015 from 23% in 2014. China, a major growth driver and the largest single market for smartphones, is expected to show a 3% decline in 2015. The developed economies – North America, Europe and developed Asia/Pacific (APAC) – show growth slowing from 18% to 8%. The emerging economies – Latin America, Middle East, Africa and Emerging PAC – drive 2015 growth at 26%.

Smartphone Unit Forecast (Source: GfK, May 2015)
Millions of Units Change
2013 2014 2015 2014 2015
World 998 1227 1355 23% 10%
North America, Europe, Developed APAC 374 440 476 18% 8%
China 359 393 383 9% -3%
Latin Amer., Middle East, Africa, Emerging APAC 265 394 496 49% 26%

The PC unit forecast from IDC in May 2015 shows a 2015 decline of 6.2%. Mature markets show a slightly bigger decline of 6.6% compared to the emerging market decline of 5.9%. The emerging market decline is dragged down by China, which had an 8% decline in 1Q 2015 PC shipments versus a year ago according to government statistics.

PC & Tablet Unit Forecast (Source: IDC, May 2015)
Millions of Units 2014 2015 Change
World PC 308 289 -6.2%
  Mature markets PC 145 135 -6.6%
  Emerging markets  PC 164 154 -5.9%
World Tablet & 2-in-1 231 222 -3.8%

IDC’s forecast for tablets and 2-in-1 PCs is a 3.8% decline in 2015 following 2% growth in 2014. Tablet growth in 2013 and prior years exceeded 50%.

How will these trends affect the semiconductor market in 2015 and 2016? The slowing of key market drivers such as smartphones and tablets will limit growth for semiconductors. The first quarter of 2015 started weakly with a 4.9% decline from 4Q 2014, according to World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS). The outlook for 2Q 2015 revenue growth for key semiconductor companies is mixed, as shown below.


Several companies are guiding for 2Q 2015 growth with around 3% at the midpoint (Intel, TI, STM and NXP). The highest growth rates are from Infineon at 9% and Avago at 7%. A few companies are expecting double digit declines (Qualcomm, SanDisk and NVIDIA). Weighted average guidance is about 3%, with a high end around 5%.

Our Semiconductor Intelligence March 2015 semiconductor market forecast was 8% for 2015 and 7% for 2016. Based on the weak 1Q 2015 and moderate expectations for 2Q 2015, we have lowered our 2015 forecast to 5.5%. We are maintaining our 2016 forecast of 7% based on some improvement in the global economy and slightly better prospects for the key drivers of smartphones and tablets.

The chart below shows recent forecasts for 2015 and 2016. 2015 forecasts are in a narrow range, from WSTS’ 3.4% to our 5.5%. Forecasts for 2016 range from WSTS’ 3.4% to our 7.0%.

Fcst June15

Overall, the outlook for the global economy, electronics and semiconductors is slow to moderate growth over the next two years. The risk is more on the downside than the upside. Factors which could lead to slower growth are more plausible than factors which could lead to higher growth. However the prospects of an economic downturn in the near future are low.

Global electronics trending upward

Global electronics production is on a generally positive trend. The chart below shows three-month-average change versus a year ago (3/12 change) for electronics production by country or region in local currency. Total industrial production is shown for Europe and South Korea since electronics production data is not available.

ee may15

China electronics production growth has remained strong, with April 2015 3/12 change up 11.4% from a year ago. China growth has been 10% or higher since December 2009. Taiwan electronics production has been volatile over the last few years, with 3/12 change ranging from increases over 40% in late 2010/early 2011 to declines approaching 30% in late 2012. Taiwan 3/12 change has been positive for the last eight months, with March 2015 up 7.3%.

Japan electronics production has been on a downward trend for about 14 years as production has shifted to China and other countries in Southeast Asia. Current production (in Japanese yen) is only about one third of year 2000 levels. However Japan is currently undergoing a short term recovery, with March 2015 three-month-average production of 449 billion yen up 44% from the recent low in June 2014. March 3/12 change was 1.7% compared to a 17% decline in November 2014.

Electronics production in the United States and industrial production in Europe and South Korea have demonstrated steady but slow growth. 3/12 change turned positive in Europe in October 2013, in South Korea in December 2013, and in the U.S. in January 2014. The March 2015 3/12 change was about 1% for each region.

We at Semiconductor Intelligence (SC-IQ) have developed a Global Electronics Index based on data from individual countries and regions. The chart below shows three-month-average change versus a year ago for the Global Electronics Index compared to global semiconductor shipment data from World Semiconductor Trade Statistics (WSTS). In 2011 both electronics and semiconductor growth were decelerating following the strong growth of 2010. Semiconductors decelerated more quickly and went more negative than electronics. Semiconductors and electronics both turned positive in mid-2013. Semiconductor growth in 2014 (averaging 10%) outran electronics growth (averaging 5%). In February and March 2015 3/12 change for both semiconductors and electronics were in the range of 5% to 6%.

global may15

Semiconductor Intelligence projects the Global Electronics Index will continue to show moderate acceleration for at least the next several months, with year 2015 growth of about 6% to 7%. In the long term, semiconductor growth is a few points higher than electronics growth due to increasing semiconductor content in electronics. Our March 2015 forecast was 8% growth for the global semiconductor market in 2015. The current electronics production data still supports this forecast.