For years, the low level research (involving the Physics of semiconductors) has been lacking behind the demand for new semiconductor products. Perhaps this is the time for the hardware industry to look back again at fundamental research, and propose new fabric for a futuristic hardware.
Profit margins have declined because many more companies have dived into the semiconductor technology area after the big boom in the 90s. So there are now many more suppliers than there is demand. This is a period of consolidation, where only the companies with best technologies and deep pockets will survive.
Same holds good for individuals and their investments in the market today. If they have enough financial backup plans to survive this downturn, eventually they will come out profitable.
With the price erosion and ASP's sliding for chips, no wonder semicon industry is less profitable than PC business. They can at least bundle s/w and other add-ons to boost their margins.
For an investor, the present and future is software anyway, not board-level hardware. With SDR radio technology, DSP ever more pervasive, the glory days of hardware are over. Have been over for a while now. Having speant years working in Semicon industry, been seeing this happen for a while now. For those looking for jobs, go and try to work in non-commodity hardware industries, like capital test equipment, ATE systems and applications and sales. Forget the chips!
But the financial results from a couple of months ago for biggies like Microsoft, Yahoo and Apple showed an increased Y-o-Y results than previous years. It would seem that the Software companies are not (yet) impacted as much as their hardware counter-parts