It is the first week in January, time to celebrate the most popular post of 2017. There was one topic that stood out of a year of posts about CEOs acting as presidents and Presidents acting as if they were CEOs, virtual reality, getting interviewed on national radio, real estate, diabetes, bicycles, small towns, and frugality: MicroVision, that story stock that makes many of my friends turn away from the conversation and wait for me to write something about Whidbey or health care or gardening. MicroVision hit the top spot and the next seven right behind it. So, sorry, friends. And, thank you, fellow investors. I think I’ll take the hint and start 2018 with a fresh look at MicroVision and its stock MVIS. It may sound like a dull story for some, but there’s a chance (that’s a chance, get it, a chance) that it will be headline news by this time next year.
For those who are new to MicroVision and MVIS, check my synopsis of my synopsis in the post that finished 2017: my Semi Annual Exercise EOY 2017. It has links to deeper conversations on various stock discussion boards where individual investors conduct depths of research that are impressive. I deal with a few facts. These folks live within piles of analyses.
Skipping the technical data, one way to describe MicroVision’s potential is to compare it to those tiny cameras in many devices. Go back a decade or two and the concept of having a camera in a phone sounded silly. Now, smartphones fit in pockets, the smartphones are equipped with one or two cameras, and the cameras have become so cheap and useful that they are in laptops, backup cameras on cars, and security systems. They’ve being used for pretty photos, naturally, but also for selfies, facial recognition, pictures of dinner, pictures of pets, pictures of whatever happens to walk by. One of MicroVision’s many opportunities is to do something similar with projectors. Projectors are now becoming common enough to install in public places for presentations, but also for sales, advocacy, and giving people directions – but those systems are or were bulky. MicroVision’s projectors are small enough to fit in a smartphone – or a pocket robot (Yep, RoBoHoN exists), or a dashboard, or in a side view mirror, or in medical devices, or… Simply getting into smartphones may be enough to make the company a success, but I suspect the greatest success is in those three little dots “…” because it is too early to know how creative some designer and user will be.
The possibilities are overwhelming, and yet the actual implementations have been underwhelming. Within the last few years, MicroVision technology is finally making it into products, but none have been successful enough to make the company successful, or at least profitable. The company management is well-known for not saying what they know. Those individual investors are creating piles of analyses because there’s very little information about what’s going on inside the company. Maybe management is over-constrained by non-disclosure agreements. Maybe competition is so tight that they prefer to say nothing. Unfortunately, both of those possibilities have the same appearance of management being silent because the actualities are not approaching the possibilities.That’s why next week’s event is so important.
From January 9th to the 12th, the Consumer Electronics Show will display gadgets and components that will wow many, and hopefully make it to market. Companies spend immense amounts of money using CES to build enthusiasm for their products. The good news is that MicroVision will be there, as it has for years. The bad news is that the investment community and the company have been quiet about MicroVision’s prospects at the event. Pessimists point to the silence as proof that nothing significant will happen. Optimists point to a long line of possible customers who may show up devices enabled by MicroVision’s technology. Realists can point to a long line of stories from previous years that sounded promising, but produced little. Within a few days, we’ll have more clues about who is right.
For a few years, I’ve been tracking MicroVision’s product pipeline. Usually, there are target dates for product announcements. This year, there are none. There are, however, several encouraging products that popped up in the last few months. Most are smartphones with embedded projectors. Want to show a small group a photo? Point the phone at a wall, counter, set of curtains, whatever, and an always-in-focus display becomes available to all. Make the display the size of a laptop, and it will be bright. Dim the lights, and make an impromptu movie theater. The phones were introduced in lucrative markets like China and India, and are finally available in America. Now that I’m a real estate broker, I might finally replace my flip phone, but I want to learn more from the investors on the discussion boards who are buying them. Yet again, a communications and sales opportunity missed by the company. The hope, however, isn’t based on what we’ve seen, but what we haven’t seen.
Will corporate customers reveal products more innovative than the pocket robot mentioned above? Will Sony reveal products they hinted at previously, or will their competitors step into a gap? I look forward to a laptop that replaces the glass display with a projector. Save weight, increase reliability, make batteries last longer, and make the computer more portable. Go an extra step and replace the physical keyboard with a projected one. I prefer physical keys for typing, but can also appreciate a computer that drops the size, weight, complexity, and cost of the two largest components: the screen and the keyboard.
Replacing the keyboard reveals another possibility within MicroVision’s technology. MicroVision’s technology works two ways. The same technology that allows an image to be displayed also allows an image to be captured. Use the right software and the computer can display a virtual keyboard while tracking fingertips to see what gets typed. Display a menu, and diners can pick and choose from a projected image on the table. Shoppers can buy with a countertop display that can’t be smudged, cracked, broken, or stolen the way tablets can. The technology can track more than fingertips. One of the most promising applications (but, again, I suspect we haven’t seen the best innovations, yet) is a suite of sensors that help autonomous vehicles see and drive through the world. As the Internet Of Things becomes less virtual and more real, there will be a demand for more sensors.
As an investor, I enjoy speculations. As an investor that’s waited almost twenty years, I want news now. Relaxed patience is gone. Tenacity is what remains. CES can replace speculations with realities. Is MicroVision a real company, or an invention house? Are its customers creating significant products, or will there be yet another suite of prototypes and test components?
Evidently, I am not alone. MicroVision is on many minds. Research firms in India have interviewed me about it. The last few days saw a surge of investors buying the stock. The products are outnumbered by the employees who are outnumbered by the shareholders who are probably outnumbered by investors and speculators and traders that are watching and waiting for – something. If enough people get a reason to get excited, demand may swing from irrational pessimism (from my perspective) to irrational optimism.
CES may tell us about many things. There will undoubtedly be more news in 2018. Dilution, management changes, earnings reports, and properly valuing the stock will remain daily topics for dedicated investors. In a year, the story will have changed. It must. And next week’s event may be the turning point, for good or bad. Stay tuned. I know I will.