Big Smile, No Teeth: Tech gadgets may be getting more expensive soon


Semiconductors are in most of the technology that we use, so a shortage of them is serious business – so serious that in February 2021 US President Joe Biden signed an executive order aimed at addressing the issue. — Bloomberg

I bought these cheap shorts the other day. I like cheap stuff because, well, I’m cheap.

RM60. Not too bad. I didn’t see any difference in the shorts compared with the more expensive ones except maybe that the pockets were a little shallow. Presumably they saved manufacturing costs but cutting down on deep pockets. But what did I care? Pockets schmockets! Did I mention the shorts were cheap? Yeah!

Then I put my smartphone in one of those shallow pockets and it promptly crashed down onto the toilet tiles, and voilà, said cheap shorts had caused a not so cheap broken screen.

Actually, I didn’t know it was not so cheap to repair a broken screen. I was hoping it wouldn’t cost much because, yes, I’m cheap. But then I found it actually costs about RM600 to fix the screen. Which I reasoned was about halfway to getting a whole new phone. So then I decided to just get a new phone.

This entire thing is incredible to me seeing as so much technology goes into making a smartphone. All the precious metals that go into semiconductors and the chips that bring us all that technology in the palm of our hands.

There are great reasons to recycle all that technology. The first, of course, is that precious metals and the components of microchips and all that fancy stuff don’t do too well in landfills; they leech into the soil and water table and cause other awful problems. The other reason is that there is actually a semiconductor shortage right now.

Hard to believe there’s a shortage of semiconductors since they’re in basically everything. And then you realise why there’s a shortage of semiconductors. They really are in everything. And not just our usual tech devices because now everything has tech in it. And all that tech means semiconductors.

The shortage is so bad both Sony and Microsoft are having to slow down selling their gaming consoles, the PS5 and Xbox. Car manufacturers like Ford, Nissan and GM have had to limit sales because as cars get more and more tech-heavy, they too need a lot of semiconductors. It’s so bad that even Apple had to delay the launch of its beloved iPhone 12 last year by two months. And you know nothing stops Apple from getting their phones out. Except this.

What happened? The Covid-19 pandemic happened.

Apparently, one result of everyone sitting at home idling meant we’re all spending more time with technology and ordering more tech online. Demand for all sorts of tech went up and up and up. And the supply of semiconductors went down and down and down, and here we are.

The problem with the semiconductor industry is that it’s not easily adaptable. Ten years ago an earthquake hit the world’s number three producer of semiconductors and it was instant chip shortage. Even right now, in the midst of the shortage, production can’t exactly ramp up because it takes years to get a semiconductor plant up and running.

The processes to make this tech that basically powers everything around us is, as it turns out, pretty complex. You can’t just get an assembly line going and start cranking out semiconductors. Unfortunately.

Which means in the near term, prices for all our tech is going to do exactly what you’d expect: They’re going to go up. Our phones, TVs, laptops, cars, refrigerators, everything with semiconductors in them, is going to see some kind of price hike to pay for the new scarcity of resources.

Seems like all that tech we love might be a little harder to come by in the next little while. So in the meantime don’t throw out your existing technology in the usual trash bins. Find electronic waste bins or collectors to make sure even your old laptops and phones can be recycled and used in new devices.

And at the retail level, maybe companies can make it a little cheaper to replace a screen on a perfectly good smartphone, so dumb customers like myself aren’t compelled to buy a whole new phone when it seems that in the near term, new smartphones might be hard to come by.


Big Smile, No Teeth columnist Jason Godfrey – who once was told to give the camera a ‘big smile, no teeth’ – has worked internationally for two decades in fashion and continues to work in dramas, documentaries, and lifestyle programming. Write to him at lifestyle@thestar.com.my and check out his stuff at jasongodfrey.co. The views expressed here are entirely the writer's own.
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Shortage , computers , economy , recycle

   

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