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8 Tech Predictions for 2018
Amazon, Apple , Artificial Intelligence , Cryptocurrency , Google , Tesla , Virtual Reality

Loup Ventures’ predictions of 2018:

  1. AI theme continues and artificial general intelligence takes small step forward through Google’s “Deepmind” initiative.
  2. VR gets untethered but it still takes another year to take off.
  3. Google Home continues to gain market share in smart speaker market.
  4. Tesla Model 3 production ramps from 2,500 in 2017 to greater than 150,000 in 2018.
  5. Major automakers announce expanded electric vehicle line-up, but autonomous driving will not ramp up until 2021.
  6. Bitcoin pulls back.
  7. iPhone ASP’s $740 vs. Street at $710.
  8. Amazon will acquire Target.

AI theme continues and artificial general intelligence takes small step forward through Google’s “Deepmind” initiative

We believe the hype around AI is justified given it’s hard to understate the significance that AI will have on the future. In 2018 we expect the AI momentum to continue. In July of 2017, we counted 11% of Fortune 500 companies mentioned AI on their quarterly conference calls. We expect that number to grow in 2018. As for leaders, it’s clear that Google CEO Sundar Pichai is trying to get his point across: AI is the future of Google. We went back and looked at his opening comments over the last year and found he has led his prepared remarks by asserting Google’s evolution from a mobile to an AI-first company on each of the past four earnings calls. The company is pushing its AI into hardware devices (Google AI hardware note) and seeing its work pay off (Google Home’s the smartest smart speaker). Artificial narrow intelligence (ANI) is being mastered and we expect more news about the next frontier in AI, artificial general intelligence (AGI, the ability of a machine to think like a human), to be top of mind in 2018. We expect Google to play a thought leadership role in AGI with its Deepmind platform, but keep in mind true AGI is likely another 20 years away.

VR gets untethered but it still takes another year to take off

The Wall Street Journal said it best in their Dec 30 article titled “Virtual Reality Needs to Cut the Cord”.  Oculus Go ($199 untethered) which comes out early in 2018 will be a step forward in ease of VR use, but it won’t be until 2019 until more powerful untethered hardware lay the groundwork for content developers and consumers to fully embrace VR. For those disappointed VR won’t be mainstream in 2018, you can at least look forward to Ready Player One’s release on March 30th. Here’s our Facebook in VR outlook.

Google Home continues to gain market share in smart speaker market

In 2017 the smart speaker market was led by Amazon with the release of 3 new Echo devices (Echo, Echo Plus, Echo Spot), Alexa for Business, sub $50 pricing, and the Alexa app being the #1 downloaded app on Christmas Day vs. Google Home at #6 across Android and iPhone. That said the market is still up for grabs, as evidenced by Amazon and Google collectively spending more than $70m on TV ads from Thanksgiving through Christmas to push the theme. Despite Alexa owning 75% (Loup Ventures) of the global smart speaker market today, we expect in 2018 Google Home will be a share gainer in smart speakers given its performance lead. Here are the details of our recent face off between the smart speaker players.

Tesla Model 3 production ramps from 2,500 in 2017 to greater than 150,000 in 2018

Near-term, we expect another miss in Model 3 production, but in 2018 we predict production will turn the corner. We continue to stress that Model 3 production over the next several quarters will be largely a guessing game and that short-term production numbers do not materially affect the long-term story. The last update on Model 3 production calls for “a production rate of 5,000 Model 3 vehicles per week by late Q1 2018,” which we believe is ambitious. That said, we’re encouraged by hundreds of Model 3s have been spotted at delivery centers and at the Fremont factory shown in a video here, along with several suppliers reporting that they are back to delivering Model 3 parts at volume.

The reason we remain upbeat on the Tesla story despite the prolonged Model 3 production problems is that EV and autonomy are the future. Tesla is fighting to gain production scale to create that future. While other car manufacturers build gas-powered vehicles at scale, building autonomous EVs is a vastly different process that will require traditional auto manufacturers to re-engineer their production facilities. That means every automaker that wants to compete in the future needs to go through the production pain Tesla’s experiencing today. Here’s our recent note on Model 3 production outlook.

Major automakers announce expanded electric vehicle line-up, but autonomous driving will not ramp up until 2021

2018 will likely be the year of announcements around expanded EV lineups from traditional automakers. The Detroit Auto Show (Jan 13-28th) is an obvious window for these announcements and we expect a steady drip of EV model announcements throughout the year. We don’t believe these new vehicles will be available until 2019 or 2020. The autonomy theme will be equally top of mind in 2018, lead by likely updates from Apple around their autonomous shuttle project. We continue to expect 2021 as the year autonomy begins to ramp, and our bet is Waymo, GM’s Cruise, and Tesla will be first to market.  Here’s our autonomous vehicle industry model.

Bitcoin pulls back

We feel cryptocurrencies are in a bubble, but something can be in a bubble and still over time become a foundational technology, just like the internet. Those who jumped on history’s greatest “get rich quick” event enjoyed 1409% increase in value in 2017 as the world watched a coin formerly synonymous with the “Silk Road” break into Wall Street. We believe that blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies are here to stay and represent the future of storing value, however, we anticipate that increased oversight (banking and government), speculation amongst institutional investors along with operational difficulties on trading platforms will trigger a crypto sell-off in 2018.  Here’s our recent Bitcoin outlook note.

iPhone ASP’s $740 vs. Street at $710

We remain optimistic that iPhone units in FY18 will be inline with the Street (~242m up 12% y/y), but the mix of iPhone X will exceed Street expectations and have a higher ASP of $740, up 13% y/y compared to the Street ASP of $710. Our ASP estimate is based on a 30% mix of iPhone X and iPhone 18% mix of iPhone 8 (iPhone 8+ and iPhone 8). In a typical iPhone cycle, the newest phone represents about half of the mix, in line with our FY18 outlook of a 48%new phone mix. Here’s our recent note on why we remain comfortable with our iPhone estimates.

Amazon will acquire Target

We saved our boldest 2018 prediction for last, Amazon acquiring Target. Getting the timing on this is difficult, but seeing the value of the combination is easy. Amazon believe’s the future of retail is a mix of mostly online and some offline. Target is the ideal offline partner for Amazon for two reasons, shared demographic and manageable but comprehensive store count. As for the demographic, Target’s focus on moms is central to Amazon’s approach to win wallet share. Amazon has, over the years, aggressively pursued moms through promotions around Prime along with loading Prime Video with kid-friendly content. As for retail stores, Amazon’s acquisition of Whole Foods 470 stores along with testing of the Amazon Go retail concept is evidence that Amazon sees the future of retail as a combination of mostly online and some offline. Despite gaining Whole Foods, Amazon’s ~470 store presence still dwarf’s Walmart at 11,695 (global).  If Amazon acquires Target’s that would jump its store count to about 2,300.  As for anti-trust, the Trump administration won’t do any favors for Jeff Bezos, but the market share numbers suggest the deal will be approved. Walmart will reach about $315B in U.S. sales in 2017 (total 2017 Walmart is expected to be $500B, up 2.6% y/y), and Amazon North American ($105B in 2017 up 31% y/y) and Target ($71B, up 2.4% YoY) would equal about $176B in U.S. revenue. Looking at the top 18 U.S. retailers (including grocery), Walmart has about 23% share and an Amazon/Target combination would have about 13% share. Lastly, Amazon can afford Target. If you assume they pay a 15% premium to the current TGT trading level would imply a take-out valuation of $41 billion, about 8% of the value of Amazon’s current $564 billion market cap.

Disclaimer: We actively write about the themes in which we invest: artificial intelligence, robotics, virtual reality, and augmented reality. From time to time, we will write about companies that are in our portfolio.  Content on this site including opinions on specific themes in technology, market estimates, and estimates and commentary regarding publicly traded or private companies is not intended for use in making investment decisions. We hold no obligation to update any of our projections. We express no warranties about any estimates or opinions we make.

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