January is a busy time for technology and biotechnology companies. During the early weeks of the year, tech companies show off their latest innovations at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Biotech companies, on the other hand, engage investors at what is likely the year’s largest biotech investor event — the JP Morgan Healthcare Conference. I’m reviewing those presentations in the hunt for the next great biotechnology investment. At CES, Corning (GLW) showed off the newest iteration of Gorilla Glass. As you may know, Gorilla Glass has become a top choice as a cover for portable consumer electronics such as tablets and smartphones due to its toughness and damage resistance. Over a billion devices have been sold using Gorilla Glass, including top sellers such as Apple’s iPhone and Samsung’s Galaxy line of smartphones.
The latest version, Gorilla Glass 3, is a revamped product. Of an entirely different composition, it is tougher and more damage resistant than previous versions. According to James R. Steiner, senior VP and general manager of the company’s Specialty Materials division:
With Gorilla Glass 3, our scientists went to the atomic structure of the glass to fundamentally improve the way the glass responds to an impact or scratch. This solution significantly improves durability, while maintaining the thinness needed for touch-enabled consumer devices.
Corning has also introduced a new line of fiber-optic USB cable. Harnessing the power of glass, it replaces the copper wiring used in standard USB cables and boosts performance while being thinner and lighter at the same time.
Nvidia (NVDA), on the other hand, revealed the next version of its popular Tegra line of mobile processors. Called Tegra 4, it is based on ARM Holdings’ (ARMH) latest mobile processor architecture, A15. According to Nvidia, Tegra 4 consumes 45% less power than Tegra 3 and, with four A15 processor cores, delivers over 250% better performance for Web browsing and apps. It also contains 72 discrete graphics-processing cores, giving it 600% better graphics performance than its predecessor. Nvidia claims it now has the most powerful mobile processor on the planet.
Tegra 4 also boosts memory bandwidth using a dual channel interface. This corrects what was the weakest aspect of the older design. Most importantly, Tegra can now be bundled with a 4G modem chipset thanks to its 2011 acquisition of communications chipmaker Icera. This will help Nvidia compete with offerings from other mobile chipmakers such as Qualcomm, which have long included this important functionality.
Tegra 4 is just the most prominent of many new products using ARM’s designs. The company’s offerings are expanding into smart TVs, server processors and networking devices. ARM’s product road map includes processors designed to compete squarely against Intel in server designs. Furthermore, as more objects become smart and connected, demand will grow for ARM’s efficient processing technology in ways that will far outstrip what we’ve seen in the smartphone and tablet markets.
Nvidia also unveiled Project Shield, which represents its first foray into mobile gaming devices. Using the Android operating system and Tegra 4, the device can play gaming apps available on Google’s app market. However, unlike tablets or smartphones, it has buttons and joysticks, which improve game play. It can also stream PC-based games over a wireless network from a gamer’s computer using Nvidia’s graphics-processing technology and output video to an HDTV.
Speaking of television, Samsung showed off the world’s first curved OLED TV. A curved screen allows for more viewing angles than a flat one, and the image appears the same. We’ll have to wait and see if commercially viable TVs emerge from the project, but curved OLED TV technology is a foretaste of the flexible OLED smartphones Samsung is working on.
LG also showcased its own new high-definition OLED TVs. It will be offering the first commercially available televisions using OLED technology this year and is expected to be followed by Samsung.
Both companies are using technology licensed from Universal Display Corp. (PANL), as well as the company’s OLED materials. The new HDTVs will be expensive, but that is no different than what happened when older display technologies, such as plasma and LCD, first became available.
2013 will see a continued ramping of OLED product availability as manufacturing scales up, and OLED has already debuted in smartphones such as Samsung’s Galaxy as well as others. Beyond displays, Universal’s technology will begin to penetrate the lighting market, where it will provide highly efficient lighting applications in totally new architectural forms.
In energy-efficient lighting, NXP Semiconductors demonstrated a solution that allows LED lamps to closely mimic traditional light bulbs. Consumers appreciate the warm, cozy light incandescent lamps provide when dimmed — something LED lighting hasn’t been able to match. NXP’s lighting solution combines white and amber LEDs to add warmer, more pleasing colors. It also includes smart technology that adjusts lighting quality to achieve the desired color temperature when dimmed. It also measures the temperature of the semiconductor-based lighting elements automatically for reliable control.