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Commentary: Microsoft-Activision Blizzard Deal – A Potential Game-changer in the Gaming Industry

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Gaming industry is booming, with a significant surge in growth occurring during the 2020-2021 pandemic, when millions of people turned to games during lockdowns. The industry is currently worth US$184 billion and is expected to reach over US$200 billion by 2025.

The market is very competitive, with a need for considerable investment and time for publishers to create successful games and for companies to develop consoles that offer advanced features and an attractive catalog of games. This is pushing players towards increased consolidation to achieve economies of scale and lower risks and to strengthen their position in the market. More than 650 gaming M&A or investment deals were announced or closed in the first six months of 2022.

Out of the numerous M&As that have recently occurred in the industry, Microsoft’s acquisition of Activision Blizzard, the maker of the world’s most popular games such as Call of Duty, Warcraft, and Candy Crush, is anticipated to make a substantial impact on the market. Microsoft announced its intent to acquire Activision for US$68.7 billion in January 2022, which was going to be the largest acquisition in the gaming industry to date. The consolidation of two strong players in the industry – Microsoft being the manufacturer of the Xbox gaming console and Activision being the publisher of many popular games – could offer users a large catalog of games and improve gaming experience and cloud-gaming services. However, it has also raised a concern that this could suppress the competition in the market of consoles, gaming subscriptions, and cloud-gaming. Many regulators across the world have blocked the deal, including the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the UK’s Competition and Markets Authority (CMA). Microsoft is currently trying to get approval from the regulators.

How does the deal benefit Microsoft?

If the deal gets approved, it will turn Microsoft into one of the top three video game publishers, right behind its rival Sony. This would enhance Microsoft’s games catalog with Activision’s games, making Xbox’s choice more attractive than Sony’s PlayStation. Microsoft would also be able to enter the mobile gaming market with Activision’s mobile games, such as Candy Crush and King. This opens a large market segment, previously unaddressed by Microsoft, a segment that accounts for 50% of the total gaming market. Microsoft is planning to open Xbox’s mobile game store to compete with Apple and Google game stores.

As users increasingly prefer gaming subscriptions and cloud gaming services over physical DVDs, it gives an added advantage for Microsoft to own some of the most popular gaming titles and offer attractive subscriptions on its platform. Currently, Microsoft holds 60-70% of the global cloud gaming services market and could further squeeze into the shares of other companies, such as Google, to dominate the market.

The company would also be able to venture into metaverse and Non-Fungible Token (NFT) games using technological and newly acquired game development capabilities.

What does this deal mean for gamers? 

The Xbox Game Pass subscribers would benefit from the added list of Activision Blizzard games, which would be incorporated into the existing catalog. However, it is unclear whether Microsoft could make future games developed by Activision unavailable on other consoles, such as Sony PlayStation and Nintendo Switch. There is also a possibility for Microsoft to increase the subscription prices if gamers are highly reliant on Xbox-exclusive games.

Cloud gaming technologies are likely to improve in the future to overcome high latency and lost frames issues faced currently. However, if Microsoft dominates the cloud gaming space, it may reduce the gaming choices for gamers.

What are the concerns over the deal?

The major concern put forth by the regulators is whether the deal could negatively impact the competitive landscape of the market. For example, Sony currently owns 21 in-house game studios, and Microsoft owns 23. If Microsoft manages to get the deal, the company will have 30 in-house game studios, making Microsoft’s Xbox a much better choice and also giving the power to decide where these games are to be played. If Microsoft makes Activision’s future games exclusive on its platforms, it will dominate the console, mobile, and cloud platforms, killing the competition. This can discourage competitors from developing high-quality games. It can also enable Microsoft to decide to reduce the quality of its games or increase the prices when it dominates the market. Even if the company makes these games available on other platforms, competitors fear that the company may offer low-quality versions or remove their marketing rights or support for other console features.

The biggest concern is over one particular game – Activision’s Call of Duty, the most-played video game in the world. Microsoft has already agreed to offer a 10-year licensing deal to console manufacturer Nintendo, however, Sony has refused to accept the offer. When Microsoft purchased Bethesda game studio in 2021, the company made its highly anticipated sci-fi game Starfield into an X-box and PC exclusive. This is one of the reasons why regulators are concerned about Microsoft’s promises to make its games available on other platforms.

The regulators also raised concerns about how the company could completely sabotage the cloud-gaming market by withholding Activision’s games from rival cloud-gaming services.

Status of the lawsuits

Microsoft is yet to receive approval from the US FTC and UK CMA. The company attempted to convince the CMA by entering into agreements with cloud gaming competitors to provide access to Xbox games. CMA remains unconvinced, which appears to be a major block for this deal. However, the company’s agreements with Nintendo and NVIDIA on providing a 10-year licensing deal for the Call of Duty game have convinced the EU regulators, and the company has won the EU antitrust approval. Regulators in Saudi Arabia, Brazil, Chile, Serbia, Japan, and South Africa have also approved the deal.

The case filed by FTC is still in the document discovery stage, and an evidentiary hearing is scheduled for August 2023. Even though the company has won FTC lawsuits before, it is to be seen if it can win the approval for this massive acquisition deal.

EOS Perspective

Considering how Nintendo managed to acquire a 30% market share in the video gaming console industry by owning just 2 studios compared to Microsoft’s 25% share with 23 owned studios, it might not be very concerning that Microsoft owning 7 more studios through the Activision deal could sabotage the competition in the market. The deal can make the rivals more competitive to develop better console generations and games.

However, it can be anticipated that Sony might lose some of its market share to Microsoft right after the deal. It can also affect Sony’s profit if the company has to take paid licenses of games owned by Microsoft. However, on the other hand, if Microsoft goes against its promises and makes the games exclusive on its platforms or does not support the other platforms’ gaming experience, it could seriously damage the competitors’ businesses. Looking at the brighter side, the marriage between two superpowers in the gaming industry could significantly transform the gaming experience for the users, open new possibilities such as Xbox mobile-game subscriptions or metaverse games, or improve cloud-gaming services.

 

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Is ChatGPT Just Another Tech Innovation or A Game Changer?

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ChatGPT, a revolutionary AI-based conversational chatbot, has been making headlines around the world. The AI-based tool can answer user queries and generate new content in a human-like way. By automating tasks such as customer support and content creation, ChatGPT has the potential to revolutionize many industries, resulting in a more efficient digital landscape and an enhanced user experience. However, the technology is not without its risks and poses a number of issues, such as creating malicious content, copyright infringement, and other moral issues. Despite these challenges, the possibilities for ChatGPT are infinite, and with the advancement of technology, the opportunities it presents will only continue to expand.

ChatGPT is an AI-based question-and-answer chatbot that responds to user queries in a conversational way, just like how humans respond. OpenAI, a US-based research and development company, launched ChatGPT in November 2022. Since then, ChatGPT has garnered increased attention and popularity worldwide. The tool surpassed over 1 million users within five days and 100 million users within two months of launch.

ChatGPT has become popular due to its capability to answer queries in a simple and conversational manner. The tool can perform various functions, such as generating content for marketing campaigns, writing emails, blogs, and essays, debugging code, and even solving mathematics questions.

OpenAI’s ChatGPT works on the concept of generative AI and uses a language model called GPT3 – a third-generation Generative Pre-trained Transformer. The AI chatbot has been fed with about 45 terabytes of text data on a diverse range of topics from sources such as books, websites, and articles and has been trained on a set of algorithms to understand relationships between words and phrases and how it is used in context. This way, the model is able to develop an understanding of languages and generate answers. ChatGPT uses a dialog format, asks follow-up questions for clarification, admits mistakes, and is capable of dismissing inappropriate or dangerous requests.

ChatGPT also has a simple user interface, allowing communication through a plain textbox just like a messaging app, thus making it easy to use. Currently, ChatGPT is in beta testing, and users can use it for free to try and provide feedback. However, the free version is often inaccessible and out of capacity due to the increasing traffic.

In February 2023, OpenAI launched a pilot subscription plan named ChatGPT Plus, starting at US$20 per month, which is available to its customers in the USA. The subscription plan provides access to ChatGPT even during peak times and provides prior access to any new features. OpenAI is also testing ChatGPT to generate videos and pictures using its DALLE image-generating software, which is another AI tool developed by OpenAI to create art and images from text prompts. OpenAI also plans to launch a ChatGPT mobile app soon.

How could ChatGPT help businesses?

One of the most impactful areas where ChatGPT can make a difference is customer support. The AI tool can handle a large volume of consumer queries within a short time frame and give accurate responses, which can boost work efficiency and reduce employees’ workload.

In addition, the tool can also be employed to answer sales-related queries. By training ChatGPT to understand product information, pricing, and other details, businesses can provide a seamless sales experience for customers. ChatGPT can also analyze user data and behavior and can assist customers to find the products they are looking for, and give product recommendations leading to a more tailored and enjoyable shopping experience. ChatGPT can be incorporated into websites to engage visitors and help them find the information they need, which can help in lead generation.

Another potential benefit of ChatGPT is its ability to automate content generation. ChatGPT can generate unique and original content quickly, making it an effective tool for creating marketing materials such as email campaigns, blogs, newsletters, etc.

ChatGPT could be used in a number of industries, such as travel, education, real estate, healthcare, information technology, etc. For instance, in the tech industry, ChatGPT can write programs in specific programming languages such as JavaScript, Python, and React, and can be very helpful to developers in generating code snippets and for code debugging.

In healthcare, the tool can be used in scheduling appointments, summarizing patient’s health information based on previous history, assisting in diagnostics, and for telemedicine services.

In the education sector, ChatGPT can be used to prepare teaching materials and lessons and to provide personalized tutoring classes.

These are just a few applications of ChatGPT. As generative technology continues to evolve, there may be many other potential applications that can help businesses achieve their goals more efficiently and effectively.

Is ChatGPT Just Another Tech Innovation or A Game Changer by EOS Intelligence

ChatGPT’s output may not be always accurate

While ChatGPT offers several benefits and advantages, the tool is not without limitations. ChatGPT works on pre-trained data that cannot handle nuances or other ambiguities and thus may generate answers that are incorrect, biased, or inappropriate.

Moreover, ChatGPT is not connected to the internet and cannot refer to an external link to respond to queries that are not part of its training. It also does not cover the news and events after 2021 and cannot provide real-time information.

Another major limitation is that the tool is often out of capacity due to the high traffic, which makes it inaccessible. There are also other potential risks associated with these generative AI tools. Some of the threats include writing phishing emails, copyright infringement, generating abusive content or malicious software, plagiarism, and much more.

ChatGPT is not the first or only AI chatbot

While ChatGPT has garnered most of the attention in the last few months, it is neither the first nor the only AI-based chatbot in the market. There are many AI-based writers and AI chatbots in the market. These tools vary in their applications and have their own strengths and weaknesses.

For instance, ChatSonic, first released in 2020, is an AI writing assistant touted as the top ChatGPT alternative. This AI chatbot is supported by Google, has voice dictation capabilities, can generate up-to-date content, and can also generate images based on text prompts. However, ChatSonic has word limits in its free as well as paid versions, which makes it difficult for users who need to generate large pieces of text.

Similarly, Jasper is another AI tool launched in 2021, which works based on the language model (GPT-3) similar to ChatGPT. Jasper can write and generate content for blogs, videos, Twitter threads, etc., in over 50 language templates and can also check for grammar and plagiarism. Jasper AI is specifically built for dealing with business use cases and is also faster and more efficient and generates more accurate results than ChatGPT.

YouChat is another example, developed in 2022 by You.com, and running on OpenAI GPT-3. It performs similar functions as ChatGPT – responding to queries, solving math equations, coding, translating, and writing content. This chatbot cites source links of the information and acts more like an AI-powered search engine. However, YouChat lacks an aesthetic appeal and may generate results that are outdated at times.

ChatGPT-styled chatbots to power search engines

While a lot of buzz has been created about this technology, the impact of AI-based conversational chatbots is yet to be seen on a large scale. Many proclaim that tools such as ChatGPT will replace the traditional search method of using Google to obtain information.

However, experts argue that it is highly unlikely. While AI chatbots can mimic human-like conversation, they need to be trained on massive amounts of data to generate any kind of answers. These tools work on pre-trained models that were fed with large amounts of data sourced from books, articles, websites, and many more resources to generate content. Hence, real-time learning and answering would be cost-intensive in the long run.

Moreover, ChatGPT’s answers may not always be comprehensive or accurate, requiring human supervision. ChatGPT may also not be very good at solving logical questions. For instance, when asked to solve a simple problem – “RQP, ONM, _, IHG, FED, find the missing letters”, ChatGPT answered incorrectly as “LKI”. Similarly, when provided a text prompt, “The odd numbers in the group 17, 32, 3, 15, 82, 9, 1 add up to an even number”, the chatbot affirmed it, which is false. Moreover, the AI chatbot does not cover news after 2021, and when asked, “Who won the 2022 World Cup?” ChatGPT said the event has not taken place.

On the other hand, Google uses several algorithms to rank web pages and gives the most relevant web results and comprehensive information. Google has access to a much larger pool of data and the ability to analyze it in real time. Additionally, Google’s ranking algorithms have been developed over years of research and refinement, making them incredibly efficient and effective at delivering high-quality results. Therefore, while AI chatbots can be useful in certain contexts, they are unlikely to replace traditional search methods, such as Google.

However, leading search engines are looking to incorporate ChatGPT into their search tools. For instance, Microsoft is planning to incorporate ChatGPT 4, a faster version of the current ChatGPT version, into its Bing Search engine. Since 2019, the company has invested about US$13 billion in OpenAI, the parent company of ChatGPT.

In February 2023, Microsoft also incorporated ChatGPT into its popular office software Teams. With this, users with Teams premium accounts will able to generate meeting notes, access recommended tasks, and would be able to see personalized highlights of the meeting using ChatGPT. These add immense value to the user.

In February 2023, China-based e-commerce company Alibaba also announced its plan to launch its own AI chatbot similar to ChatGPT. Similarly, Baidu, a China-based internet service provider, launched a chatbot named “Ernie” in its search engine in March 2023.

Amidst the increasing popularity of ChatGPT, Google has also started working on a chatbot named “Bard” based on its own language model, Lambda. The company is planning to launch more than 20 new AI-based products in 2023. In February 2023, Google invested about US$400 million in Anthropic AI, a US-based artificial intelligence startup, which is testing a new chatbot named Claude. Thus, the race to build an effective AI-enabled search engine has just begun, and things have to unfold a bit to learn more about how chatbots can modify web searches.

On the other hand, AI technologies such as ChatGPT are sure to leave an impact on how businesses operate. With the global economy slowing down, resulting in low business margins, many businesses are looking to cut down costs to increase profitability.

ChatGPT could be extremely beneficial to companies looking to automate various business tasks, such as customer support and content generation. The tool can be integrated into channels, including websites and voice assistants. While this sounds beneficial, there is also a likelihood of the technology displacing some jobs such as customer service representatives, copywriters, research analysts, etc.

However, ChatGPT will not be replacing the human workforce completely since many business tasks require creative and critical thinking skills and other traits such as empathy and emotional intelligence that only humans have. This technology is expected to pave the way for new opportunities in various fields, such as software engineering and data analysis, and allow employees to focus on more value-added tasks instead of routine, mundane tasks, ultimately boosting productivity.

EOS Perspective

With their remarkable ability to generate human-like conversations and high-quality content, generative AI tools, such as ChatGPT, are sure to be touted as a game-changer for many businesses. The advancements in generative AI are expected to have a significant impact on various business tasks such as customer support, content creation, data analysis, marketing and sales, and even decision-making.

Investors are slowly taking note of the immense potential the technology holds. It is estimated that generative AI start-ups received equity funding totaling about US$2.6 billion across 110 deals in 2022, which echoes an increasing interest in the technology.

The adoption of generative AI technologies is poised to increase, especially in business processes where a human-like conversation is desirable. Industries such as e-commerce, retail, and travel are likely to embrace this technology to automate customer service tasks, reduce costs, and increase efficiency. In addition, generative AI is likely to become an indispensable part of industries such as finance and logistics, where high levels of accuracy and precision are required. Media and entertainment companies can also benefit from this technology to quickly generate content such as articles, videos, and audio.

That being said, generative AI is not without its risks, and the technology could be used to create fake and other discriminatory information. Hence, there is an inevitable need to ensure that generative AI models are trained and deployed in an ethical and responsible manner. Despite these challenges, there is increased research and significant activity going on in the field of generative AI, especially with regard to combining the capabilities of chatbots and traditional search engines.

The current chatbots will continue to evolve and will lead to the creation of even more advanced and sophisticated models. The popularity of generative AI tools such as ChatGPT is unlikely to wane, and the technology is here to stay, with the potential to create better prospects for business and a brighter future for society.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Sustainable Electronics Transforming Consumer Tech Companies

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Globally, electronics are discarded at alarming rates, generating unprecedented amounts of e-waste. On the other side, finite resources such as minerals and metals, which are used to make these electronics, are getting depleted. To foster sustainability across the electronics value chain, many tech companies are adopting strategies such as incorporating long-lasting product design, using recyclable and biodegradable materials, using clean energy for power generation, etc. However, the sustainable electronics concept is still in a nascent stage of adoption, and a lot of work needs to be done. Strict legislation, cross-sectoral collaborations, organizations facilitating networking and knowledge sharing, and changes in business models are needed to implement sustainability across various business units in the electronics industry.

Growing need for sustainability in electronics

Global consumption of electronics is rising exponentially and is expected to double by 2050. This increase is set to adversely affect the environment, leading to more mining of raw materials, an unprecedented increase in e-waste, and increased carbon emissions during manufacturing.

Globally, people are discarding electronics sooner than before due to the availability of new electronics, owning outdated models, obsolescence, etc. Over the last few years, nearly 50 million tons of e-waste has been generated annually. Only 17% of this e-waste is recycled globally, and the rest is transported and dumped in developing countries such as Pakistan, Nigeria, and India, which do not have adequate facilities for processing and handling e-waste. This e-waste ends up in landfills, accounting for approximately 70% of hazardous chemicals, and pollutes the air and water streams. Moreover, e-waste generated globally contains recyclable or reusable raw materials, scrap rare earth metals, plastics, and valuable elements, which are valued at US$62.5 billion per year.

Given the economic and environmental cost of e-waste, as well as responding to growing consumer preference for sustainable products, several companies are looking to transition to sustainable electronics. Sustainable electronics are products that are made using recycled or reusable and biodegradable materials, as well as products that generate low carbon emissions during manufacturing and distribution.

Sustainable electronics transforming consumer tech companies by EOS Intelligence

Sustainable Electronics Transforming Consumer Tech Companies by EOS Intelligence

Recycling, clean energy power, and modular design for sustainable electronics

Over the last few years, consumer tech companies have been adopting many strategies for manufacturing electronics sustainably. In 2021, tech giants Cisco, Dell, Google, Microsoft, Vodafone, and many others together formed a “Circular Electronics Partnership (CEP)” to accelerate the circular economy for electronics by 2030 and to help businesses and organizations overcome barriers to sustainable electronics.

Several companies are looking to increase the life span of their smartphones to make them more sustainable. Increasing the phone’s life span by two years can reduce carbon emissions to a great extent, as 80% of the carbon emissions come during manufacturing, shipping, and the first year of phone usage. Fairphone, a Dutch-based smartphone manufacturer, has introduced smartphones with a lifespan of approximately 5 years, higher than the average lifespan of 2.5 years. Similarly, Teracube, a US-based sustainable smartphone manufacturer, has launched phones that can last up to 4 years.

Many companies are also designing their products with modularity, which allows users to repair, upgrade, customize, and disassemble their gadgets easily. For instance, Framework Computer, a US-based laptop manufacturer, sells laptops that can be upgraded. The company offers upgrading kits that contain laptop main boards and top covers to customize the device as per the user’s need. Similarly, Fairphone manufactures modular smartphones, which are easy to repair and upgrade. These kinds of gadgets eliminate the user’s need to buy new ones, saving both costs and wastage.

There is also an increased interest among consumer electronics companies to use recycled materials in various products. Sony, a Japan-based multinational corporation, has developed a recycled plastic, SORPLAS, and has been using it in a range of its products, such as audio systems and televisions, since 2011. In 2022, Logitech, a Swiss-American manufacturer of computer peripherals and software, used recycled plastic in 65% of its mice and keyboards. Similarly, in 2021, Acer, a Taiwan-based electronics corporation, launched a series of PCs named Vero, which uses recycled plastics for the chassis and keycaps. Acer also launched the Earthion program, an eco-friendly initiative, in the same year and started working closely with suppliers and partners to bring various sustainability measures in product design, packaging design, and production. Tech giant Apple stopped selling chargers and headphones along with the iPhone in 2020 to cut e-waste. The company used 20% recycled material in all its products in 2021 and uses robots to disassemble or separate metals from e-waste. There is 40% recycled content in the MacBook Air with Retina display, and 99% recycled tungsten is used for the iPhone 12 and Apple Watch Series. Samsung, a multinational electronics corporation, is using recycled plastics in refrigerators, washing machines, air conditioners, TVs, monitors, and mobile phone chargers.

Due to this increased demand for recycled materials, recycling companies are receiving investments to a significant extent. In 2021, Closed Loop Partners, a US-based investment firm, invested an undisclosed amount in ERI, a US-based electronics recycler that supplies materials to companies such as Best Buy, Target, and Amazon, to extend the capacity for the collection and processing of electronics. Similarly, in 2022, the Australian Business Growth Fund (ABGF), an investment fund focused on small to medium-sized Australian businesses, invested US$7.5 million in Scipher, an Australia-based urban mining and e-waste recycling business.

Significant activity has been happening in the refurbished electronics market as well due to the rising consumer awareness of sustainability. Trade-in and refurbishment reduce e-waste piling up at landfills, as it limits buying newer gadgets and thereby paves the way for greater sustainability across the electronics industry. Back Market, a France-based marketplace of renewed devices (which provides refurbished devices with a one-year warranty), has raised over US$1 billion since its launch in 2014. In 2022, Verdane, a European specialist growth equity investment firm, announced an investment worth US$124 million in Finland-based Swappie, a re-commerce company that sells previously owned, new, or used smartphones. Vodafone also announced a major initiative to extend the life of new mobile phones and to encourage customers to trade in or recycle their old devices. The company is planning to provide customers in European markets with a suite of services, including insurance, support, and repairs for their devices, in 2022. Samsung collaborated with iFixit, an online repair community, for its self-repair program in 2022. The company said that under this program, Galaxy device owners in the USA can make their own repairs to the Galaxy Tab S7+, Galaxy S20, and S21 products using easy-to-repair tools available from iFixit.

Tech companies have also started transitioning to renewable energy and looking for ways to reduce their carbon emissions. Intel, a US-based technology company, uses green energy of up to 3,100,000 MWh annually in the manufacturing of processors and computer accessories. Samsung’s facility operations in the USA and China switched to 100% renewable energy in 2019. In 2021, Microsoft entered into a partnership with IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, to reduce carbon emissions in the organization’s supply chain. IFC is said to work with selected Microsoft suppliers in emerging markets, primarily in Asia, to identify technical solutions and financing opportunities to reduce emissions in the production process.

Legislation to aid the shift toward the circular economy in electronics

For years, many countries did not have appropriate policies enforcing sustainability across the electronics industry. Nevertheless, the trend is reversing with several countries adopting legislation for the circular economy. For instance, in 2020, the European Commission announced a circular electronics initiative that would promote eco-design (a design that considers environmental aspects at all stages of the product development), right-to-repair rules, including a right to update obsolete software, and regulatory measures on universal chargers, to name a few. France became the first European country to pass the Anti-Waste for a Circular Economy Act (AGEC) in 2020, which requires producers of electronic devices to provide details on how repairable their products are. According to AGEC, manufacturers are required to scale their products at a rate of 1-10 based on the reparability index. France also plans to introduce a durability index by 2024, whereby manufacturers would be asked to describe the full lifecycle of their products. Moreover, the US government passed an order in 2021 to draft regulations that protect the consumer’s right to repair electronic devices and other tools.

It is not easy to manufacture sustainable electronics

While sustainable electronics are the need of the hour, and several leading players have already started promoting and investing in this space, the sector faces many challenges. Currently, there are no established standards, concepts, or definitions concerning sustainable electronics, and there is no strict legislation to enforce sustainability practices in the electronics industry. There are some rating systems that identify energy-efficient products followed in the USA and Europe (for example, the USA’s ENERGY STAR program). However, registering and complying with the ratings and their requirements is up to the manufacturer and is not mandatory. Moreover, e-waste regulations in several countries are poorly enforced due to low financing, and illegal practices such as dumping e-waste and incineration by the informal sector still persist.

Most electronics companies are also not transparent about their environmental performance, and the impact is often hidden. The term ‘sustainable’ is widely misused as a promotional tactic by companies targeting environmentally conscious consumers.

The electronic industry also operates on a linear established model, wherein products are manufactured (with planned obsolescence) and sold to consumers. Incorporating circular strategies for recycling and reuse requires a lot of remodeling and reconfigurations across the supply chain, and the rising consumption of electronic devices makes it difficult to adapt to any new changes. Challenges, such as complex recycling processes, costs of recycling, and consumer perception of green electronics, also hamper sustainability development. Most electronics are not designed for recycling and are made of a complex mixture of materials such as heavy metals, highly toxic compounds, glass, plastics, ferrous and nonferrous materials, etc. Recycling these materials is tedious and involves several steps such as dismantling, removing the hazardous waste, shredding into fine materials, and sorting the materials into various types. The process is also resource and cost-intensive, requiring human labor, more processing time, and adequate infrastructure such as various material screening types of equipment. Recycling e-waste could also be polluting, with potential exposure to toxic metal fumes.

Finally, the perception of consumers about sustainable electronics also needs to be changed, which is challenging. There is a notion among customers that the use of recycled, sustainable materials in electronics means products would be of lower quality. A lot of investment would be required to educate and convince consumers about the benefits of sustainable electronics and to address any concerns about quality. In most cases, it is difficult to pass on these costs to the consumers as they are unlikely to accept higher prices. Thus, this cost would be required to be absorbed by the companies themselves. Due to this, most current initiatives toward sustainable electronics can be best described as half measures.

EOS Perspective

The economic benefits of sustainable electronics are enormous. The resource scarcity and the price fluctuation of various minerals and metals make them necessary to recycle, recover, and reuse in the circular economy. Over the last few years, consumer electronics manufacturers have taken many sustainability initiatives, such as reducing energy consumption, eliminating hazardous chemicals, introducing biodegradable packaging, incorporating recycled and recyclable materials in products, and investing in renewable energy projects. Also, the refurbished electronics segment is growing fast, while interest is surging in introducing devices with built-in reparability. While several small initiatives are being taken by leading players, electronics manufacturers mainly do not know how to introduce sustainability across their products in a mainstream fashion.

Sustainability in electronics has still a long way to go. Several legislative initiatives are underway toward a circular (sustainable) electronics economy, and it is high time for electronics manufacturers to be proactive and rethink their business models. A complete business model transformation is required to integrate sustainability across every unit. Cross-sector collaborations with stakeholders such as product designers, manufacturers, investors, raw material producers, and consumers are crucial to understanding the technical know-how. It is essential to analyze the entire life cycle of products, from choosing raw materials to their disposal, and to prioritize circular strategies for such products. Electronic manufacturers also need to come up with creative and rewarding ways for consumers to be willing to choose sustainable products, as, in the end, the industry cannot flourish without consumer acceptability. The future of sustainable electronics can be bright, and manufacturers who see this as a potential business opportunity rather than a problem will benefit in the long term.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China. Is There a Way Out?

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Dubbed as the factory to the world, China is an integral part of the supply chain of a host of products and brands. From manufacturers of simple products such as toys to complex goods such as automobiles, all are dependent on China for either end products or components. However, China’s ongoing trade war with the USA and the COVID-19 pandemic have made several brands question their supply chain dependence on this country, especially in some industries such as pharmaceuticals. Moreover, aggressive investment incentives offered by countries such as India and Japan have further cajoled companies to reassess their global supply chains and reconsider their dependence on China. However, with years of investment in the supply chain ecosystem, a shift such as this seems easier said than done.

China emerged as the manufacturing hub of the world in the 1990s and hasn’t looked back since. Owing to the vast availability of land and labor, technological advancements, and overall low cost of production, China became synonymous with manufacturing. Over the past decade, increasing labor and utility costs, and growing competition from neighboring low-cost countries such as India, Vietnam, Thailand, etc., have resulted in some companies shifting out from China. However, so far, this has been limited to a few low-skilled labor-intensive industries such as apparel.

The year 2020 has changed this drastically. The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the ongoing trade war between the USA and China, made companies realize and question their dependency on China. At the beginning of last year, COVID-19 brought China to a halt, which in turn impacted the supply chain for all companies producing in China. Moreover, several pharmaceutical companies also realized that they are highly dependent on China for a few basic medicines and medical supplies and equipment, which were in considerable shortage throughout 2020. This pushed several companies across sectors, such as pharmaceuticals, automobiles, and electronic goods, to reconsider their global supply chains to ensure reduced dependence on any one region, especially China.

Currently, several companies such as Apple, Google, and Microsoft are looking to shift their production from China to other South Asian countries, such as Vietnam and Thailand.

Some of the companies looking to reduce dependence on China:

Apple

In November 2020, Apple, along with its supplier Foxconn, expressed plans to shift the assembly of some iPads and MacBooks to Vietnam from China. The facility is expected to come online in the first half of 2021. Moreover, Apple is also considering shifting production of some of its Air Pods to Vietnam as well. In addition, it has invested US$1 billion in setting up a plant in Tamil Nadu, India, to assemble iPhones that are to be sold in India. Apple and Foxconn are consciously trying to reduce their reliance on China due to the ongoing USA-China trade war.

Samsung

In July 2020, Samsung announced plans to shift most of its computer monitor manufacturing plants from China to Vietnam. The move is its response to hedge the supply chain disruptions it faced due to factories being shut in China during the early phase of the pandemic. In addition, in December 2020, the company shared its plans to shift its mobile and IT display plants from China to India. Samsung plans to invest about US$660 million (INR 48 billion) to set up the new facility in Uttar Pradesh (India).

Hasbro

Hasbro has been moving its production out of China into Mexico, India, and Vietnam over the past year. It aimed to have only 50% of its products coming out of China by the end of 2020 and only 33% of its production to remain in China by the end of 2023. In 2019, about 66% of its toys were produced in China, while in 2012, 90% of its toys were manufactured in the country. The key reason behind the consistent switch is the souring trade relations between the USA and China.

Hyundai

During the past year, Hyundai Motors has been looking at developing India into its global sourcing hub instead of China in order to reduce its over-reliance on the latter. It has been encouraging its vendors, such as Continental, Aptiv, and Bosch, to ramp up production in India so as to move their supply chain away from China. It plans to source its auto parts from India (instead of China) for its existing factories in India, South America, and Eastern Europe, as well as a planned facility in Indonesia.

Google

Google is looking to manufacture its new low-cost smartphone, Pixel4A, and its flagship smartphone, Pixel5A, in Vietnam instead of China. In addition, in 2020, it also planned to shift production of its smart home products to Thailand. This move has been a part of an ongoing effort to reduce reliance on China, which, in fact, gained momentum after supply chain disruptions faced due to the coronavirus outbreak.

Microsoft

In early 2020, Microsoft expressed plans to shift the production base of its Surface range of notebooks and desktops to Vietnam. While the initial volume being produced in Vietnam is expected to be low, the company intends to ramp it up steadily to shift volumes away from China.

Steve Madden

In 2019, Steve Madden expressed plans to shift parts of its production out of China in 2020, given growing trade-based tensions between the USA and China. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it could not make planned changes to its supply chain. In October 2020, it again expressed plans to start shifting part of its production away from China by spring 2021. It plans to procure raw materials from Mexico, Cambodia, Brazil, and Vietnam to reduce reliance on China.

Iris Ohyama

The Japanese consumer goods player expressed plans to open a factory in northeastern Japan to diversify its manufacturing base, which is based primarily in China. The company made this move on the back of increasing labor costs in China, rising import tariffs to the USA, and the supply disruptions it faced for procuring masks for the Japanese market. In 2020, it also set up a mask factory in the USA. In addition, the company plans to open additional plants in the USA and France for plastic containers and small electrical goods to cater to the local demand in these markets.

Nations using this opportunity to promote domestic production

In August 2020, about 24 electronic goods companies, including Samsung and Apple, have shown interest in moving out of China and into India. These companies together have pledged to invest about US$1.5 billion to setup mobile phone factories in the country in order to diversify their supply chains. This move is a result of the Indian government offering incentives to companies looking to shift their production facilities to India.

In April 2020, the Indian government announced a production-linked incentive (PLI) scheme to attract companies looking to move out of China and set up large-scale manufacturing units in the electronics space. Under the scheme, the government is offering an incentive of 4-6% on incremental sales (over base year FY 2019-20) of goods manufactured in India. The scheme, which is applicable for five years, plans to give an incentive worth US$6 billion (INR 409.51 billion) over the time frame of the scheme.

In November 2020, the Indian government subsequently expanded the scheme to other sectors such as pharma, auto, textiles, and food processing. In addition, it is expected to provide a production-linked incentive of US$950 million (INR 70 billion) to domestic drug manufacturers in order to push domestic manufacturing and reduce dependence on Chinese imports. Apart from incentives, India is developing a land pool of about 461,589 hectares to offer to companies looking to move out of China. The identified land, which is spread across Gujarat, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Andhra Pradesh, makes it easy for companies looking to set up shop in India, as acquiring land has been one of the biggest challenges when it came to setting up production units in India.

On similar lines, the Japanese government is providing incentives to companies to shift their production lines out of China and to Japan. In May 2020, Japan announced an initiative to set up a US$2.2 billion stimulus package to encourage Japanese companies to shift production out of China. About JNY 220 billion (~US$2 billion) of the stimulus will be directed toward companies shifting production back to Japan, while JNY 23.5 billion (~US$200 million) will be given to companies seeking to move production to Vietnam, Myanmar, Thailand, and other Southeast Asian countries.

In the first round of subsidies, the Japanese government announced a list of 57 companies in July 2020, which will receive a total of US$535 million to open factories in Japan, while another 30 companies will be given subsidies to expand production in other countries such as Vietnam and Thailand. The move is a combination of Japan looking to shift manufacturing of high-value-added products back to the country, and the initial disruptions caused to the supply chain of Japanese automobiles and durable goods manufacturers.

Similarly, the USA, which has been at odds with China regarding trade for a couple of years now, is also encouraging its companies to limit their exposure in China and shift their production back home. In May 2020, the government proposed a US$25 billion ‘reshoring fund’ to enable manufacturers to move their production bases and complete the supply chain from China, preferably back to the USA, and in turn, reduce their reliance on China-made goods. The bill included primarily tax incentives and reshoring subsidies. However, the bill has not been passed in Congress yet, and now, with the leadership change in the USA, it is expected that president Biden may follow a more diplomatic strategic route with regard to China in comparison to his predecessor.

In addition to individual country efforts, in September 2020, Japan, India, and Australia together launched an initiative to achieve supply chain resilience in the Indo-Pacific region and reduce their trade dependence on China. The partnership aims at achieving regional cooperation to build a stable supply chain from the raw material to finished goods stage in 10 key sectors, namely petroleum and petrochemicals, automobiles, steel, pharmaceuticals, textiles and garments, marine products, financial services, IT services, tourism and travel services, and skill development.

Similarly, the USA is pushing to create an alliance called the ‘Economic Prosperity Network’, wherein it aims to work with Australia, India, Japan, New Zealand, Vietnam, and South Korea to restructure global supply chains to reduce dependence on China.

COVID-19 Unmasks Global Supply Chains’ Reliance on China by EOS Intelligence

Is it feasible?

While these efforts are sure to help companies move part(s) of their supply chain out of China, the extent to which it is feasible is yet to be assessed. Although the coronavirus outbreak has highlighted and exposed several supply chain vulnerabilities for companies across sectors and countries, despite government support and incentives, it will be very difficult for them to wean off their dependence on China.

Companies have spent decades building their manufacturing ecosystems, which, in many cases, are highly reliant on China. These companies not only have their end products assembled or manufactured in the country but also engage Chinese suppliers for their raw materials, who in turn use further Chinese suppliers for their inputs. Therefore, moving out of China is not a simple process and will take a tremendous amount of time as well as financial resources.

While companies such as Google or Microsoft are looking to shift their assembling plants out of China, they are still dependent on China for parts. This is all the more relevant in the case of high-technology products, such as automobiles and telecommunication infrastructure, where companies have made significant investments in China for their supply chain and are dependent on the nation’s manufacturing capabilities for small, intricate but technologically advanced parts and components.

Moreover, despite significant efforts and reforms from countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand, they still cannot match China in terms of the availability of skilled labor, infrastructure, and scale, which is required by many companies, especially with regard to technologically advanced products. That being said, more companies are looking at a strategy where they are maintaining their presence in China, while also developing relatively smaller operations outside the country to have a fallback and to reduce total dependency on China. This is also dubbed as the China + 1 strategy.

Another reason going in China’s favor has been its capability to bounce back from the pandemic and resume production in a short span of time. While production had been halted from January to March 2020, it ramped up from April onwards and was back to normal standards within no time. This reinforced the faith of many companies in Chinese capabilities. Therefore, as some companies are already cash-strapped due to the pandemic, they are not interested in investing in modifying their supply chains when, in most cases, normalcy resumed in a relatively short span of time.

EOS Perspective

Companies have been looking to diversify their supply chains and reduce dependence on China for a couple of years now, however, the trend has gained momentum post the coronavirus pandemic and growing US-China trade tensions. The onset of the COVID-19 outbreak exposed several vulnerabilities in the supply chain of global manufacturers, who realized the extent of their dependence on China. Moreover, several countries realized that they relied on China for key medicines and medical supplies, which cost them heavily during the pandemic.

Given this situation, several nations such as Japan, India, and the USA – together and individually, have started giving incentives to companies to shift production from China into their own borders. While this has resulted in several companies, such as Apple, Microsoft, Sanofi, Samsung, etc., expanding their manufacturing operations out of China, it does not necessarily mean that they are moving out of China. This is primarily due to heavy investments (in terms of both time and money) that they have already made into developing their intricate supply chains, as well as the inherent benefits that China provides – technologically skilled labor, sophisticated production facilities, and quick revamping of production after a calamity.

That being said, it has come into the conscience of companies to reduce their over-reliance on China, and while it may not impact the scale and extent of operations in the country in the short run, it is quite likely that companies will phase out their presence (at least part of it) in China over the coming decade.

A lot depends on the level of incentives and facilities provided by other nations. While countries such as India, Vietnam, and Thailand can offer low-cost production with regard to labor and utilities, they currently do not have the technological sophistication possessed and developed by China. Alternatively, while Japan and the USA are technologically advanced, without recurring incentives and tax breaks, the cost of production would be much higher than that in China. Thus, until there is a worthy alternative, most companies will follow the China +1 strategy. However, with growing trade tensions between China and other nations and ongoing efforts by other nations to encourage and support domestic production, China may risk losing its positioning as the ‘factory of the world’ in the long run.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Demystifying the Microsoft-LinkedIn Deal

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Microsoft’s savvy move to acquire LinkedIn at US$26 billion in June 2016, making it one of the highest value technology deals, is observed with both skepticism and optimism. On the one hand, the deal is being called a ‘natural fit’, as LinkedIn dovetails with Microsoft’s evolving corporate strategy, while on the other hand, Microsoft’s checkered history with acquisitions questions the acumen behind the huge price tag. Nonetheless, the acquisition will give Microsoft an opportunity to establish foothold in the social networking platform and professional content as well as expand its reach to 433 million LinkedIn users.

There is definitely a synergy between the two companies and their products, particularly, Microsoft’s Office productivity suite and LinkedIn’s professional profiles. LinkedIn users are the core demographic for Microsoft’s products. Microsoft could monetize the investment in LinkedIn by leveraging access to such enormous amount of data to sell its products.

The key reason for the acquisition was a shift in Microsoft’s business strategy to focus on building a social media presence, while LinkedIn’s growth slowdown was a motivation to agree to the deal. Together these companies plan to integrate their products to capture a larger market share – for instance, the plan is to align Microsoft’s Dynamics CRM and LinkedIn’s Sales Navigator to enhance presence in the social selling market.

1-Why


2-What

The merger of two prominent global companies is likely to impact various industries and stimulate possibility of Twitter acquisition. The deal could impact B2B marketers, SEO companies, and recruitment industry.

3-How

EOS Perspective

LinkedIn wanted to be acquired due to its ailing stock performance and growth, and Microsoft was the best fit. LinkedIn’s acquisition was a good move from shareholder’s perspective, and the association with Microsoft might open avenues for LinkedIn to compete against Facebook and Google.

Acquiring LinkedIn is part of Microsoft’s masterplan to combine professional cloud and professional network using LinkedIn’s database of corporate users. The world’s largest software maker, Microsoft, has to now compete with Google and Apple mandating the need to shift to mobile devices, cloud, and social network. LinkedIn gathers in-depth information on its users including employment history, education, and user’s connections. This data is very useful for Microsoft, as it plans to manage relationship with customers and compete with Salesforce (an American cloud computing company).

However, questions are being raised on Microsoft’s ability to preserve LinkedIn’s value and grow both companies. Microsoft’s acquisition history is tinted with deals such as Skype, Nokia, and Yammer, all of which are not runaway success stories. For instance, Microsoft registered write-downs exceeding US$ 9.4 billion, which it paid to acquire Nokia in 2014. Further, the financial viability of the deal is being challenged as Microsoft paid an equivalent of US$ 260 for each monthly active user of LinkedIn. To keep its shareholders happy, it will either have to add more users to LinkedIn’s network quickly or devise a clear strategy to earn money from LinkedIn’s data.

Nevertheless, at this initial phase it is difficult to assess whether the deal is a success or failure for both companies. The actual worth of the deal can only be unmasked when the two companies begin to align their offerings and start devising a combined corporate strategy to compete in the market.

by EOS Intelligence EOS Intelligence No Comments

Apple Vs Samsung: The Battle of the Wrong Contenders

On August 24, 2012, a jury in San Jose, California drew curtains (for the time being at least) on the long-drawn saga between Apple and Samsung. The court delivered a verdict largely favorable to Apple, validating most of Apple’s claims and ordering Samsung to pay Apple $1.05 billion in damages.

The verdict followed months of bitter battle between the two companies, which together sell more than half of the world’s smartphones and tablets. Although Apple’s charges against Samsung are more about design and features, it is actually an attack on Google and its Android software, which drives Samsung’s devices and has become the most widely used mobile software.

Since Apple, Google and Microsoft belong to the operating platform universe, their patent strategies differ vividly from the old mobile telecommunications world of essential patents. The mobile telecommunications industry is not new to IP litigations. However, current litigations concern the operating software used in smartphones, whereas earlier litigations were targeted at mobile telecommunications standards. This situation has arisen as Google did not have ex ante licenses from Apple and Microsoft.

There are two IP regimes, ‘essential patents’ (radio, transmission and telephony) and ‘platform patents’ (operating system software). In the Apple vs. Samsung case, the charges filed against Samsung relate both to essential patents (related to design of Samsung phones and tablets) and to platform patents (related to certain features allegedly copied by Android from iOS). However, when it comes to mobile internet, there is no overlap between the two patent regimes. The current IP litigation game (between Apple, Google and Microsoft) is only about platform patents (operating system software) and not about ‘essential patents’ (radio, transmission and telephony).

The mobile telecommunications market is currently undergoing upheaval as mobile internet is becoming the dominant application and phones are practically turning into mobile internet devices. For mobile telecommunication incumbents (such as Ericsson, Motorola, Nokia, Sony and Samsung), competition remains heated with direct threat from the likes of Apple and indirect competition from Google and Microsoft.

Apple and Microsoft are expected to be the winners in the current IP litigation scenario, since their IP is considered to have value in smartphones, while as Google’s IP, in comparison, is considerably lower, the Android operating system and its alliance network seem to be losing. The role of mobile telecommunication incumbents, with respect to patent portfolios is still important but limited to essential patents.

The unique position of Google as merely the provider of Android has also protected it from any direct IP litigation. However, to fight with Google, both Apple and Microsoft have filed IP litigation against the adopters of Google’s platform ecosystem, which includes original equipment manufacturers (e.g., HTC, Motorola Mobility, and Samsung) and application developers (Lodsys sues Rovio).

These attacks are global and are spread across four continents; specifically, Apple has sued the largest producer of Android-based devices, Samsung, in the USA and the rest of the world, except for China. It will be interesting to see the outcome of these litigations, as it might change the way the global mobile sector currently functions – if Samsung were to lose, it will shake-up Google’s ambitions of becoming the global leader in mobile telephony software; if the outcome comes out in favor of Samsung, both Samsung and Google will lead the market, and perhaps give rise to smaller hardware manufacturers which could use the Android platform to enter the market.

Whatever the outcome of these lawsuits, it sure is expected to spur innovation among relevant industry participants. Android (Google) has been found to be vulnerable/susceptible to litigation and unless they significantly strengthen their patent portfolio, hardware manufacturers would be wary of adopting android and will look for alternatives (such as MS Windows Mobile or develop their own operating systems). And if Apple wins, then OEMs will still have to look for alternative operating platforms. So the path is not as rosy for the Android system as it seems at the outset.

Thus, two key observations from the Apple vs. Samsung patent disputes can be noted:

  1. Apple’s patents are only valid and enforceable in the USA and the company will have difficulty in leveraging these outside the USA, for example in Europe and Asia.

  2. Apple’s patent portfolio outside the USA is minimal and the company will therefore struggle to protect its products in Europe and Asia. Moreover, the company would be forced to sign cross-licensing agreements with old mobile phone incumbents (Apple and Google Subsidiary – Motorola Mobility Consider Arbitration).

The current IP litigation scenario in mobile telecommunications shows how the industry is transitioning from an industry dominated by standards and essential patents in the late 1990s to an industry increasingly dominated by platform patents.

What’s next in this battle? Where might this lead the industry to?

Courts in different jurisdictions, such as in the UK, Korea, Japan, Australia and Germany have all given varied verdicts and the litigation battles are expected to continue (Samsung has already challenged the San Jose verdict). However, if Apple is able to enforce its patents outside the USA as well, mobile phone incumbents would feel hesitant to use Android and may opt for competing operating systems such as the Windows Phone.

Even then, it is unlikely to represent the demise of Android. Some of the features in contention have already been removed, while other features are given significantly lesser protection outside the USA.

The story, clearly, is far from over.

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