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March 12, 2021
🌞 Good morning! Don’t forget daylight savings begins this weekend for the US ("spring forward, fall back"), and you may need an extra coffee to get through the one hour sleep loss.
Phone shortage?
Realme Factory and Imaging Lab PCB manufacturing

Two weeks ago we talked more about the semiconductor shortage, with a report that semiconductor demand is 30% above supply right now. Foundries are fully loaded, yet we want more gadgets than ever.

Now, though, reports are that Qualcomm is struggling, as the shortage spreads to phones. 

And it isn’t just for smaller makers with lower priority — Reuters reports even Samsung is affected, citing sources at Samsung suppliers. Quotes:

  • “Samsung Electronics Co Ltd, the world’s largest smartphone maker, is experiencing a shortage of Qualcomm’s application processors.
  • Demand for Qualcomm’s chips has soared in the past months as Android phone makers seek to win over customers abandoning phones produced by Huawei Technologies Co Ltd due to U.S. sanctions. 
  • Qualcomm has found it hard to meet this higher-than-expected demand, in part due to a shortage of some subcomponents used in its chips.”

So far, reports suggest all tiers of smartphones are affected. Reuters again:

  • “One person at a Samsung supplier said a Qualcomm chip shortage was hitting production of mid- and low-end Samsung models. The second person, at another supplier, said there was a shortage of Qualcomm’s new flagship chip, the Snapdragon 888, but did not say whether this was affecting the manufacturing of Samsung’s high-end phones.”
  • And another source at a contract manufacturer said it would cut handset shipments for a range of “major smartphone brands”.
  • And Xiaomi’s Lu Weibing, prolific on Weibo, said “It’s not a shortage, it’s an extreme shortage,” back a few weeks.

For its part, Qualcomm isn’t saying much. In its recent earnings call, it acknowledged supply chain shortages, and said supply would be “normalized towards the later part of 2021.”

What now?

  • The March madness of mobile is seemingly oblivious to the chip shortages. Two flagships this week, mid-rangers from Samsung next week, more for the end of the month. Does any of it matter if we can’t buy them? There’s been no word of restrictions… yet.
  • If there is a chip shortage, we do have some recent history on our side to tell us more. The pandemic affected phones like the Google Pixel 5 and 4a 5G; the iPhone 12 launched later than usual, and so on.
  • And reaching further back, in 2012, TSMC couldn’t produce enough 28nm processors, and Samsung couldn’t make enough RAM in 2013 to supply all clients.
  • That led to slower launches outside of home markets for smaller players, like Asus.
  • What could happen? Well, you hope not what we’ve seen for the PS5 and Xbox Series X, which is to say aggressive shortages, aggressive reselling, and daily coverage about which retailer might get stock next.
  • And, zero discounts, no accessories or credits included, and forced bundles in some cases.
  • On the flip side, it might create a booming second-hand market?

Naturally, if you do have your eye on a smartphone, especially something in current production, maybe take your chance while stocks are available?

Also: Gogo’s 5G network launch has stalled due to the chip shortage (The Verge).


📁 Leak: Oppo’s first foldable phone could be revealed by the end of June (Android Authority).

📸 The non-Pro Huawei P50 model has now leaked, with the same massive camera system, but appears to have a flat display (Android Authority).

📺 Netflix is testing a crackdown on password sharing. Will Netflix really push this? If it does, the whole industry may shift towards stricter single-household logins… but don’t panic, yet. It’s an annual story that never quite seems to happen (Android Authority).

🔋 Poll: Do you turn off Bluetooth and NFC when not using them? (Android Authority).

🍎 Apple is suing a former employee for information leaks. In the lawsuit, Apple is alleging former Apple product design architect, Simon Lancaster, who worked on devices like the 13″ and 15″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, leaked company secrets to a press reporter regarding “Project X” (rumoured to be Apple’s VR/AR headset) (Apple Insider). Why? Allegedly, it was in exchange for favorable coverage of a startup. John Gruber points out that it matches up to the reporting timeline from Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman (Daring Fireball). Actually there’s interesting little tidbits everywhere out of this if you’re a very keen Apple watcher – like this (Twitter).

🤦‍♂️ A really detailed report here on Facebook, this time looking at its “Responsible AI” team, an attempt at self-regulation. It shows that unless it’s about growth, Facebook doesn’t seem to really worry or care. Here’s how the reporter, Karen Hao, described the piece: “It’s not about corrupt people doing corrupt things. That would be simple. It’s about good people genuinely trying to do the right thing. But they’re trapped in a rotten system, trying their best to push the status quo that won’t budge.” (MIT Technology Review).

🧊 Google says Chrome 89 keeps your Mac cooler, and saves ‘significant memory’ on Windows (The Verge).

🔋 GM unveils plans for its Li-metal “Ultium” batteries that could boost EV range, using tech out of its partnership with MIT spin-off, SolidEnergy Systems (Engadget).

🎮 20 Bethesda games will be available on Xbox Game Pass, tomorrow. Btw, doesn’t include DLC (Engadget).

🧅 “How do certain smells like onions stay on your hands for so long, even after you wash your hands repeatedly?” (r/nostupidquestions).

Friday Fun
beeple screenshot 1

Beeple sold an NFT artwork (partly seen above), comprising all his art since 2007, for over $69 million, with auction house Christie’s doing the selling.

  • It measures at a hefty 21,069 x 21,069 pixels, and yes, it is a jpg.
  • $69 million, nice. (Mashable)

Is it crazy? Is it proof society has too much money? Or is it money laundering?

Here’s two splices out of Matt Levine’s Money Stuff column, which included a fun breakdown of why NFTs are stupid, and later, on Beeple’s $69M: (TL;DR: everything is stupid, once you really question it)

  • “Of course this is stupid but it’s not so much stupider than anything else. I can look at the Mona Lisa on my computer too, even though the Louvre owns the real one. Well, no, I do think there are some real advantages to owning physical paintings. I’d rather have the original Mona Lisa in my living room than look at it on my computer. But the traditional markets for baseball cards and sports memorabilia are harder to distinguish from NFTs. The scuffed baseball that Barry Bonds hit into the stands for his 73rd home run in 2001 is not a particularly interesting physical object; you can buy a dozen nicer, newer, cleaner baseballs for $17.85 on Amazon. The home-run ball is a unique pointer to a memorable event, but it is not intuitively obvious that you should ascribe any value to that. A Mickey Mantle rookie card is a piece of cardboard with a picture and some stats printed on it, who cares. Why not print it on the blockchain. So, sure, NFTs, whatever.”
  • “There is no real underlying value to anything in the art market; all the market value comes from how it makes you look and feel, and how you think it will make other potential buyers feel. If people feel good about the aesthetics of NFTs, that’s not really any crazier than feeling good about the aesthetics of oil paintings.”

Have a great weekend,

Tristan Rayner, Senior Editor.

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