Here’s why gadgets are so hard to get right now


It is impossible to get a PS5, your iPhone is sold out and no one has seen a graphics card in the wild for months. It seems that no matter what type of electronic gadget you are looking for, it just can’t be found. What’s going on in the world? The short answer is a global chip shortage caused by a confluence of factors ranging from the ongoing pandemic to geopolitical tensions and, as always, some crypto nonsense.

The long answer is… complicated.

As usual Covid is the obvious problem

They’re easy to get rid of most of the time, but every device you own, including the one you’re using to read this article, is made up of dozens of specially designed microprocessors that require even more specialized factories to manufacture them. It was already a complicated process to maintain, but when the pandemic hit in early 2020, it threw a metaphorical wrench into very literal gears.

The increase in working from home is correlated with a growing need for more devices. Tellingly, webcams were almost immediately sold out as millions of people moved their meetings to video chats and wanted something that looked better than their laptops’ built-in webcams. Similar pressures to buy new laptops, phones, tablets, headphones and dozens of other devices are straining the supply of microprocessors. At the same time, the demand for cars – which also require dozens of integrated electronics –discontinued early 2020.

Factories that make microprocessors don’t light up a dime. Since most chips require very specific manufacturing processes, setting up a workflow to start meeting demand for certain parts can take weeks or even months. It’s taking time for a factory that until recently mass-produced touchscreens for new cars to turn to making screens for iPads.

Simply put, it’s hard to keep up with demand for electronics even in a normal year with agility, and 2020 was the furthest thing from normal. The pandemic is not over either. Taiwan was until recently largely free of Covid cases, but a sudden, exponential increase could, according to a Taiwanese representative, end up causing ā€œlogistical problemsā€ if the country does not have access to more vaccines.

Taiwan Manufacturing Accounts for over 60% of global semiconductor revenue. In other words, the majority of processors used in electronics in the world pass through Taiwan. With an increase in demand for certain devices, a sudden and intense shift in the type of devices consumers need, and growing pressure to stay operational during a pandemic, shortages were inevitable.

Perhaps even more predictably, semiconductor prices start to climb to respond to this request. Not only is it hard to get enough of some devices, it could soon become more expensive. Which only exacerbates Next problem.

International trade relations cause even more headaches

Deconstructing the complex nature of international trade disputes is somewhat beyond the scope of a single explanatory article, but what we can say with certainty is that it is not simply a matter of increasing demand making more difficult to obtain transformers. Having the vast majority of global semiconductor manufacturing based on one continent has never been ideal for other countries. And the United States in particular haven’t always played well.

At the end of 2020, shortly before leaving office, President Donald Trump put restrictions in place on the Chinese manufacturer SMIC. This led, in at least one case, to an automaker moving microprocessor manufacturing to Taiwan, which only Taiwanese manufacturers even more overloaded. In a way, this decision was an extension of the Trump administration’s feud with Huawei, which in turn was an extension of that of the United States. much more complicated relationship with China’s position in the global economy.

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