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1 big thing: Chip sales hit record in 2018, but slowdown seen

Manufacturing a semiconductor wafer. Photo: Alfredo Sosa/The Christian Science Monitor via Getty Images

Global chip sales rose nearly 14% last year to a record $468.8 billion, according to new numbers from the Semiconductor Industry Association. However, growth slowed significantly in the second half as the industry enters what appears to be a period of slower growth.

Why it matters: Chips are at the heart of all manner of electronics, from phones and PCs to broader markets like cars and appliances. Plus, unlike the gear they end up in, a significant number of semiconductors are not only designed in the U.S. but also manufactured here.

  • Chip sales growth is seen slowing to just 2.6% this year, according to the World Semiconductor Trade Statistics organization.
  • "We may be moving into a cyclical period [where we are] experiencing slower growth," SIA CEO John Neuffer said in an interview. But he added that the industry's long-term outlook is "very strong" as more chips go into more products.

Slowing growth: Several factors are weighing on the chip business, beyond the fact that it is a cyclical industry that has boomed for the last couple of years. In particular, there are concerns that the U.S.-China trade dispute as well as a slowing domestic Chinese market for consumer electronics could be hurting business.

  • "We want this to get resolved," Neuffer said. "We want the tariffs to get lifted."
  • Ideally, he said, the issues would be resolved in a way that increases intellectual property protections, a key concern for the U.S. high tech community.

By the numbers:

  • Total chip unit shipments topped 1 trillion for the first time.
  • Memory was the largest and fastest growing type of semiconductor, with sales up 27.4% to $158 billion.
  • Sales in 2018 rose in every region, led by China, where sales were up 20% for the year.
2. Super Bowl ads highlight debate on newest tech

A girl uses the adaptive Xbox 360 controller. Screenshot: Microsoft via YouTube

This year's Super Bowl ads highlighted society's divide over the promise of big tech, Axios' Sara Fischer reports.

What we're seeing: Some spots showed dystopian fears around robots and automation. Others showed ways new technologies can improve health care, employment and connectivity.

Why it matters: The conflicting messages reflect the debate happening right now over whether automation and artificial intelligence will improve our lives or displace our humanity.

  • On one side, ads from TurboTax, Michelob Ultra and Pringles showed ways robots and voice assistants can't compete with human intelligence and emotion. Even Amazon ran a lengthy ad poking fun at hiccups by its Alexa voice assistant.
  • On the other side, tech companies like Google and Microsoft tried to show their human side, with ads highlighting ways their companies aid veterans and children with disabilities.

There was also a bit of irony to be found in the millions of dollars spent on ads by streaming tech companies. Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Prime and YouTube TV all purchased spots Sunday, serving as a reminder that traditional television, and particularly the Super Bowl, is still considered a top destination for high-level branding.

Another major theme this year was the power of female protagonists. Bumble, Toyota, Wix, Amazon Prime and Hulu all ran ads showing the power of women in sports, in the workplace, and in society.

Go deeper: Sara has more here.

3. China's esports ambitions

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

China's tech giants have invested aggressively to expand esports in ways that U.S. tech platforms, like Amazon's Twitch and Google's YouTube, have not, Sara reported over the weekend as part of our Axios deep dive on the business of sports.

Why it matters: Those investments are what could drive the Chinese gaming community ahead of some international rivals, despite being smaller in reported revenue ... for now.

  • Alibaba has invested heavily in Hangzhou, a Chinese city building up its economy to revolve around esports events, gaming and culture.
  • Tencent struck a deal with the Chinese city of Wuhu in 2017 to build an esports industrial park, which will include an esports theme park and an esports university. Tencent is the world's largest gaming company by revenue.

The big picture: Alibaba and Tencent use unparalleled reach across e-commerce, logistics, entertainment and tech to change the way users consume, interact with and participate in sports.

  • This allows them to collect an enormous amount of user data to use for cross-platform promotions for games.

Axios published a deep dive on the business of sports this weekend that covers a range of issues from the rise of esports, to the dawn of nationwide legal sports betting. I even got to write a piece on the challenging economics and persistent pay gap in womens' sports.

Go deeper: Read the full report here.

4. Google adds live transcription to Android

Photo: Google

Google is launching 2 new features aimed at making its mobile operating system more accessible.

Details:

  • Live Transcribe helps those who are deaf or hard of hearing to get an easy read on what's being said around them. The feature, which works in more than 70 languages, uses the cloud to help with transcription but the conversations aren't stored on any servers.
  • Sound Amplifier, which was previewed at Google I/O last year, is like noise cancellation for conversations. It helps focus the audio on the conversation one is trying to hear while minimizing background noise.

Why it matters: There are more than a billion people with a disability, some 15% of the world's population. Technology, when implemented thoughtfully, can play a big role in knocking down barriers. Beyond that, advances in accessibility often have a way of making technology more usable for everyone.

5. Take Note

On Tap

  • It's the last big week of earnings season, led by Google today, Snapchat on Tuesday, Spotify on Wednesday, and Twitter on Thursday.

Trading Places

  • Bill Stasior, the executive who had been leading Apple's Siri team is no longer in that role, but remains at Apple, according to The Information.
  • Heather Janik, a veteran of the Michael Bloomberg administration and Fox News Channel, is joining Glen Echo Group as a VP. Most recently she was leading media relations efforts for the hunger-fighting charity Feeding America.

ICYMI

  • In an interview, the head of Google Translate explains why AI is prone to gender bias and why the system sometimes turns nonsense words into religious prophecy. (The Verge)
  • Facebook makes the majority of its revenue from users in the U.S. and Canada, but its user growth in those countries has slowed dramatically. (Axios)
  • It's not just you: Computers have gotten so good at speech and text recognition that those "captchas" have gotten too hard for humans. (The Verge)
  • Spotify is in talks to buy Gimlet Media, the Brooklyn-based podcasting company, according to reports from Recode and the WSJ. (Axios)
  • An inventor of a prototype of an indestructible smartphone screen was asked by the FBI to participate in a sting against Huawei, which allegedly tried to steal the technology. (Bloomberg)
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