Digital is the new driver

Electronics

The digital camera was one of the ‘must-have’ consumer electronics items this Christmas. The electronics industry hopes this will set the trend for 1998, with digital gadgets appearing in people’s homes, cars and pockets.

It can no longer depend on the PC to provide the growth, and there are even signs the mobile phone market is slowing.

So it needs new business drivers. Digital radio is already available in the US and should start here this year although the receivers will be expensive.

Digital TV, both satellite and terrestrial, is due to start in the autumn and this should be a boost for UK electronics as companies here have designed and will make the set-top boxes to decode the signals.

This year could also prove good for the digital versatile disc (DVD) if the software industry produces a decent number of titles to play.

Uncertainty remains about how all these emerging technologies, along with the Internet, will work together in the home. Parts of the industry want to base them around the PC. According to others, the PC has had its day and 1998 will be the year of the Network Computer or Windows Terminal, or Media Centre or next generation Computer (XC). It may be longer than a year before we know the answer, but events in 1998 should give us some clues.

Electronic commerce could be a driver for some of these newer devices, as well as just modems. For this to take off there needs to be on-line authorisation, and encryption needs to move from credit-card based transactions to the security of smartcard-based systems but this is not likely in 1998. Unless confidence in Internet security gets worse, the year should be a good one for electronic commerce at least in business, if not for shopping.

Semiconductor penetration shows no sign of abating. There is more embedded electronics in everything from cars to smartcards.

This is good news for the UK where there are a lot of inward investors making the components, but also a lot of good indigenous design houses which should benefit from the digital revolution. The problem is the shortage of electronic engineers.

Dickon Ross