As the U.S. economy rebounds from its pandemic slump, a vital cog is in short supply: the computer chips that power a wide range of products that connect, transport and entertain us in a world increasingly dependent on technology.
The shortage has already been rippling through various markets since last summer. It has made it difficult for schools to buy enough laptops for students forced to learn from home, delayed the release of popular products such as the iPhone 12 and created mad scrambles to find the latest video game consoles such as the PlayStation 5.
But things have been getting even worse in recent weeks, particularly in the auto industry, where factories are shutting down because there aren’t enough chips to finish building vehicles that are starting to look like computers on wheels. The problem was recently compounded by a grounded container ship that blocked the Suez Canal for nearly a week, choking off chips headed from Asia to Europe.
These snags are likely to frustrate consumers who can’t find the vehicle they want and sometimes find themselves settling for a lower-end models without as many fancy electronic features. And it threatens to leave a big dent in the auto industry, which by some estimates stands to lose $60 billion in sales during the first half of his year.
“We have been hit by the perfect storm, and it’s not going away any time soon,” said Baird technology analyst Ted Mortonson, who said he has never seen such a serious shortage in nearly 30 years tracking the chip industry.
Is the pandemic to blame?
Sort of. The pandemic prompted chip factories to start shutting down early last year, particularly overseas, where the majority of the processors are made. By the time they started to reopen, they had a backlog of orders to fill.
That wouldn’t have been as daunting if chipmakers weren’t then swamped by unforeseen demand. For instance, no one entered 2020 expecting to see a spike in personal computer sales after nearly a decade of steady decline. But that’s what happened after government lockdowns forced millions of office workers to do their jobs from homes while students mostly attended their classes remotely.
Are other factors at work?
Yes. Both Sony and Microsoft were preparing to release highly anticipated next-generation video game consoles for their PlayStation and Xbox brands, respectively, that required more sophisticated chips than ever. To add to the demand, wireless network providers are clamouring for chips to power ultrafast “5G” services being built around the world.
President Donald Trump’s trade war with China probably didn’t help either. Some analysts believe the Trump administration’s blacklisting of Huawei Technologies prompted that major maker of smartphones to build a huge stockpile of chips as it braced for the crackdown.
Why is the Auto industry being hit so hard?
Stay-at-home orders drove a surge in consumer electronics sales, squeezing auto parts suppliers who use chips for computers that control gas pedals, transmissions and touch screens. Chip makers compounded the pressure by rejiggering factory lines to better serve the consumer-electronics market, which generates far more revenue for them than autos.
After eight weeks of pandemic-induced shutdown in the spring, automakers started reopening factories earlier than they had envisioned. But then they were hit with unexpected news: chip makers weren’t able to flip a switch quickly and make the types of processors needed for cars.
How are automakers dealing with the shortage?
They’ve cancelled shifts and temporarily closed factories. Ford, General Motors, Fiat Chrysler (now Stellantis), Volkswagen and Honda seem to have been hit the hardest. Others, most notably Toyota, aren’t being affected as dramatically. That is probably because Toyota was better prepared after learning how sudden, unexpected shocks can disrupt supply chains from the massive earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan in 2011, said Bank of America Securities analyst Vivek Arya.
The harder hit automakers have diverted chips from slower-selling models to those in high demand, such as pickup trucks and large SUVs. Ford, GM and Stellantis have started building vehicles without some computers, putting them in storage with plans to retrofit them later.
GM expects the chip shortage to cost it up to $2 billion in pretax profits this year from lost production and sales. Ford is bracing for a similar blow. Chip makers probably won’t fully catch up with auto-industry demand until July at the earliest.
How will this affect people who want to buy a new car?
Expect to pay more. Supplies of many models were tight even before the chip shortage because automakers were having trouble making up for production lost to the pandemic.
IHS Markit estimates that from January through March, the chip shortage reduced North American auto production by about 100,000 vehicles. In January of last year, before the pandemic, the U.S. auto industry had enough vehicles to supply 77 days of demand. By February of 2021 it was down almost 30% to 55 days.
Will other popular products be affected this year?
Samsung Electronics, one of the world’s biggest chipmakers, recently warned that its vast line-up of consumer electronics could be affected by the shortage. Without specifying which products might be affected, Samsung co-CEO Koh Dong-jin told shareholders that a “serious imbalance” between the supply and demand for chips could hurt sales from April through June.
What’s going to prevent this from happening again?
There are no quick fixes, but chipmakers appear to be be gearing up to meet future challenges.
Intel, which for decades has dominated the market for PC chips, recently made waves by announcing plans to invest $20 billion in two new factories in Arizona. Even more significant, Intel revealed said it is starting a new division that will enter into contracts to make chips tailored for other firms in addition to its own processors. That’s a major departure for Intel, aligning it more closely with a model popularized by TaiwanSemiconductorManufacturing Co., or TSMC, which already had been building a plant in Arizona, too.
Compelled by the current shortage, TSMC also has committed to spending $100 billion during the next three years to expand its worldwide chip manufacturing capacity. About $28 billion of that investment will come this year to boost production at factories that have been unable to keep up with the surge in demand since the pandemic began, according to TSMC Chief Executive Officer C.C. Wei.
And President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion plan to improve U.S. infrastructure includes an estimated $50 billion to help make the the country less reliant on chips made overseas. The U.S. share of the worldwide chip manufacturing market has declined from 37% in 1990 to 12% today, according toSemiconductorIndustry Association, a trade group.
But chips won’t start coming out of any new factories built as part of the spending splurge for two to three years. And even as existing factories ramp up and expand to meet current demand, some analysts wonder if there might be a glut of processors a year from now.
Krisher reported from Detroit.
EU Commission proposes removing chargers from all smartphone boxes – GSMArena.com news – GSMArena.com
In a new press release by the European Commission, legislation is being put forth by the European Commission to standardize the charging plug across all consumer devices. It also plans to “harmonize” a fast-charging standard and “unbundle the sale of chargers from the sale of electronic devices”. This proposal will apply to “smartphones, tablets, cameras, headphones, portable speakers, and handheld videogame consoles.”
The Commission officially proposes four things:
- A harmonized charging port for electronic devices: USB-C will be the common port.
- Harmonized fast-charging technology: will help prevent different producers unjustifiably limit the charging speed and will help ensure that charging speed is the same when using any compatible charger for a device.
- Unbundling the sale of a charger from the sale of the electronic device: the Commission says that EU consumers already have an average of three chargers and will only use two.
- Improved information for consumers: OEMs will need to provide information about charging speeds and whether the device supports fast charging.
According to the EU Commission, European consumers spend €2.4 billion annually on standalone chargers not included with devices. Also, an estimated 11,000 tonnes of e-waste are made up of disposed/unused chargers every year. The EU Commission hopes that the proposed legislation could potentially save consumers €250 million per year on unnecessary charger purchases.
Fast-charging standardization is an interesting one. Many Chinese phone makers all use different fast-charging standards to compete with each other, but most will support some form of USB-C Power Delivery fast-charging. So OEMs would need to provide fast-charging information so that they are informed about what charging speeds they may expect from the charger they already have at home.
iPhone 12 Pro with included Lightning to USB-C cable
The proposed legislation will affect Apple the most. They’d need to make the switch from Lightning to USB-C. It’s been rumored for years that Apple would make this switch, and even though Apple’s MacBook and iPad have already switched to USB-C, its two most popular product lines: the iPhone and AirPods, continue to use the Lightning cable. This would hurt Apple’s sales of chargers and cables, so Apple isn’t giving in without a fight.
Even so, the proposed legislation still needs to be approved by the ordinary legislative procedure (co-decision): It needs to be adopted by the EU Parliament and Council. Once (and if) the legislation is approved, a transition period of 24-months will be given to OEMs to transition to the new EU laws.
Some iPhone 13 Pro animations affected by an issue that will be fixed – The Verge
Apple’s iPhone 13 lineup launched Friday, and one of the key features of the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max are their ProMotion displays with variable refresh rates that can top out at 120Hz. But as spotted by 9to5Mac, some app animations in third-party apps are currently only running at 60Hz. That might be frustrating if you were expecting to see buttery-smooth animations across all of your apps with the new phones, but when we asked Apple what was going on, the company shared two reasons why this might be happening.
One reason is that developers will need to update their apps to declare that they use the higher refresh rate. This can be done by adding an entry to the app’s plist, Apple tells The Verge, and the company says it plans to share documentation about the entry you need to add soon. But in some cases, animations built with the company’s Core Animation technology are also affected by an issue that will be fixed in an upcoming software update, Apple says.
Variable refresh rate screens offer a lot of benefits, including smoother animations and scrolling when you’re using the device and battery savings the screen runs at lower refresh rates. We were impressed with the screens on the 13 Pro and 13 Pro Max in our review, and it’s good to hear that third party apps will be able to take full advantage of what they have to offer — though some may have to wait until after that software update.
Today’s Homes Need a Professional Electrician’s Touch
Credit: Ed Harvey via Pexels
Modern technology can be jaw-dropping at times, but it must be installed correctly and safely. There’s nothing worse than getting ready to show off one of the latest gadgets, only to see that it doesn’t work!
Professional electricians have the experience and knowledge necessary to ensure that the wiring tucked out of view works as it should, so what is visible performs the way it’s expected to. Let’s check out the different services electricians provide for your home.
Safely, Efficiently Wire Smart Homes
The idea of a Smart Home where people can control a room’s temperature from their phone did not exist when many homes were built. Whether your home is from a previous generation or you’re building a new one from scratch, professional electricians can ensure the wiring will safely and sufficiently power all your devices if you want Smart appliances in it.
The electrical requirements are not the same in a house designed to power the lights versus one that can charge a car in the garage. Even though some aspects of a Smart Home can be self-installed, if you’re confident enough, most laypeople don’t know how to install it optimally.
If you have multiple smart devices, it’s better to have them streamlined, so they can talk to each other and be interconnected. You want your speakers, thermostat, locks, and more to work effortlessly, and professional electricians make it easy.
If you’re going to be charging an electric vehicle at home, ensure your EV Charger is hardwired to the electrical panel. A certified, licensed, and insured electrician needs to confirm the installation meets certification requirements.
If you need an electrician in Pickering or anywhere in the Durham region to wire your home for modern technology, look for a family-owned business that can get the job done quickly and with excellent customer service. Family-owned businesses specialize in customer satisfaction.
Safety Matters Above All
It’s hard for laypeople to identify faulty or dangerous wiring when they see it, and it’s hard to see behind those walls. Professional electricians have the equipment to measure the rate at which electricity is conducted, so they can safely install your home’s lighting.
Whether you’re moving into an old home that may have outdated systems or building a brand-new house, hiring a professional electrician to inspect and install the wiring is essential. Confirm first whether they’re an apprentice, journeyman, or a master electrician, and double-check that the business is bonded, licensed, and insured.
The safety of you, your family, and your home may be at risk unless a professional electrician has inspected your home’s wiring and deemed it safe. You can’t get this peace of mind any other way.
A home ought to have lights that turn on brightly and safely, but it’s common to expect a lot more from our gadgets, given today’s incredible consumer technology. Make sure you have a professional electrician inspect and wire the home, so you can feel confident that everything will work smoothly and safely.
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