Image is everything

1 November 2005

Rectron`s Mark Lu says he has seen the future and it all centres around liquid crystal display (LCD) technology.

According to Mark Lu, Rectron`s CEO, LCD technology will be core to consumer device innovation for the next decade or two and South Africans will have a definite role to play.

For the past 20 years, most technological innovation, particularly in the consumer electronics market has been driven largely by advances in the semiconductor manufacturing industry as chipmakers have succeeded in making increasingly small chips faster, more powerful and more integrated. However, that`s all about to change according to Mark Lu, Rectron CEO. He says the semiconductor industry has reached its peak.

“For the next 10 to 20 years, most innovation will be driven by LCD technology, which is continually improving in quality and breaking size barriers at both the upper and lower ends with a steady stream of new giant and miniature LCD displays coming to the market,” says Lu.

“I am not saying the semiconductor is over, just that the numbers game of smaller, faster processors is over. The usage model of semiconductors has moved to another arena where user experience and mobility are the important factors, requiring more highly integrated processors rather than power and speed,” he explains.

While most advances in LCD technology are taking place in the East, Lu is confident South Africa will have an important role to play in this new LCD-centric era in which the LCD display will become the convergence centre in homes for digital TV, audio, photo, video, computer and every other kind of media content.

Overtaking conventional

Lu says it is widely believed that mobile computers will eventually overtake desktop computers, which is yet another indication that the future will be LCD-centric.

“Industrial design is an important component of just about every device featuring an LCD, and because of its strength in this discipline, it is likely there will be lots of opportunity for South Africa to be involved in the coming wave of LCD-centric innovation,” says Lu.

Another important area South Africans are likely to contribute to LCD-centric innovation is in the field of Global Positioning Systems (GPS). “Thanks to expertise developed in satellite tracking for use by the South African military, there is a great deal of local knowledge around such systems, particularly in using GPS systems,” explains Lu.

Emphasising his point, Lu refers to a mobile phone recently acquired in Taiwan that features GPS functionality. “This is going to be big pretty soon,” he says. Lu predicts that GPS and MP4 portable media player technology will become standard in mobile phones within the next two years.

Lu also predicts GPS will become a standard feature of cars in future. “We are evolving from the vision of a computer in every home to a vision of a computer in every car,” quips Lu.

He says that mapping software is a very superficial application of GPS technology. He says a lot more could be done and SA is likely to get very involved in developing hardware and software to exploit this technology more thoroughly.

Local ability

“We tend to underestimate local abilities, but there are some very good software developers and significant network expertise in SA,” says Lu.

Having sketched the kind of role South Africans could play, Lu reiterates his belief that the coming years will see a boom around LCD technology.

“It may be a bit bullish to say innovation will be LCD-centric for the next 20 years, but LCD will be at the centre of innovation for at least the next 10 years because it will take at least than long for any rival new display technology to reach consumers,” qualifies Lu.