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    CES Provided Signs Of Economic Life

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    Ben Wars
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    CES Provided Signs Of Economic Life

    Post by Ben Wars on Mon Jan 10, 2011 12:32 pm

    If one needed any proof that the economy is starting to show signs of life again, the just-wrapped Consumer Electronics Show held it. More populated and more crowded than the previous year's show (although official attendance figures had not been released at press time), it seems that CE companies, buyers and dealers all expect consumers to begin spending again.

    And spend they will. In his keynote remarks, Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) President Gary Shapiro said the industry would produce revenues of $180 million in 2010, 6% higher than the previous year. The organization also forecast that revenues would increase another 3% in 2011 to $186.4 billion in 2011.

    "The big story in CE in 2010 was the sudden infiltration of tablets into the mainstream, which will continue well into the New Year. In 2011, the industry foresees additional sales growth allowing CE revenues to achieve a new sales summit," said Steve Koenig, the CEA's director of industry analysis, in a release exploring the forecast.

    Connectivity was the theme of this year's show, with many companies showing how one could live a completely connected life, moving content across a series of screens throughout a day. Internet-connected televisions, tablets and phones were the focus of many showcases, while several companies showed off prototypes of connected appliances that could determine the most energy-efficient times to run or how often one opens the refrigerator.

    Accordingly, the support that will enable such connectivity was another underlying theme of the show. Verizon and T-Mobile staged elaborate presentations to showcase their recently launched 4G networks and the bevy of tablets and smartphones) that would be available for them. In his opening keynote address, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg said the increased prevalence of high-speed networks was pressuring consumer electronics companies to "accelerate the cycle of innovation and growth that drives the industry forward."

    "People are using technology to erase the boundaries between home and work, here and there, virtual and real," Seidenberg said. "They imagine access to everything at their fingertips and they want it now, no matter where they are or what screen they have at hand. They are challenging us to deliver better products, faster networks, more simplicity and more creativity."

    Indeed. It's not surprising that automakers ranging from Ford, GM, Audi and Toyota were all in Las Vegas showing off their connectivity services. Given the United States' car culture, increased connectivity availability means more people connecting from their cars. "We'll start to see more of those utility functions," Ross Rubin, director of analysis at NPD, tells Marketing Daily. "Some manufacturers may explore building a cellular connection [directly in the cars]."

    At the same time, some technology enablers are looking for ways to expand their technologies beyond their own brands. On-Star announced that it would soon begin selling an after-market rear-view mirror add-on that would allow the owner of any car -- new or old, GM-made or not -- to access the well-known (and heavily marketed) On-Star services. Similarly, LG also announced that it would make its connected-TV platform available to anyone with an HDMI cable. "If we're going to get value for the OnStar brand, we can't just be in the GM [cars]," OnStar president Chris Preuss said of his company's expansion. "The brand is highly respected and trusted. That gives us a chance to expand in ways we hadn't considered."

    Finally, it seems that CE companies aren't going to let go of the dream of 3D television. Sony's press briefing was almost entirely centered on 3D technologies, from television sets to handheld cameras to entertainment alliances that would bring more 3D programming into the home. Similarly, every other television maker had its own expanded line of 3D televisions. Some, like Toshiba and Sony, were even willing to display their prototypes of 3D televisions that don't require the use of glasses (although viewing is still restricted to a very limited range in front of the TV).

    "It's a second chance for 3D television," Rubin says. "We're going to see prices come down and new technologies deployed to get around the expense of the glasses."

    Of course, the bigger question -- whether consumers will consider buying a 3D TV that requires glasses when they get wind of new versions that won't require them are around the corner -- remains unanswered.

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