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Thursday, November 17, 2011

CES Unveiled at London: the future’s looking pretty bright

Mark Bridge writes:

The 2012 International CES is expected to be the world’s largest consumer technology tradeshow. It runs from 10th to the 13th of January in Las Vegas next year and will contain technology from more than 2,700 companies spread over a record-breaking 1.8 million square feet of exhibition space.

Yesterday I saw a preview of what’s expected there – and all without leaving the UK. Instead I headed to a conference centre where the first-ever ‘CES Unveiled at London’ event took place.

The first impression was that everything was a little bit larger than life. This wasn’t merely any press preview. It was ‘The Official Press Event of the International CES’. I was warned to keep wearing an identity badge unless I wanted to be ejected from the building. And an instrumental version of Layla was playing over the loudspeakers as I entered the room.

I was particularly looking forward the ‘tabletop exhibition’ at the end of the afternoon, even though that description sounded a little like a cross between a model railway and a WI jam-making competition. But first there’d be a look at recent and predicted trends in consumer electronics.

Time for a spot of history. CES was originally called the Consumer Electronics Show when it launched in 1967, with a wider focus on technology (combined with the absence of any consumers from what is exclusively a trade show) resulting in the event being renamed in recent years. It’s an international event, although it’s produced by the Consumer Electronics Association – the CEA – which is very much focussed on the consumer electronics industry in the USA.

Okay, back to the London event. Opening it was Shawn DuBravac, the CEA’s Chief Economist and Director of Research, along with Steve Koenig, CEA Director of Industry Analysis. It soon became clear that what I perceived as ‘larger than life’ was actually confidence in the consumer electronics industry and its future.

Their analysis was that global sales of consumer electronics were still increasing, albeit not as quickly as in previous years. In fact, global sales are expected to hit $1.013 trillion (£639 billion) next year, up 5% on this year’s anticipated total. Here in Western Europe, a mere 1% growth is expected next year - but that’s still growth, right?

What’s particularly good news is that tablets and smartphones are at the top of the growth charts. Global tablet sales are expected to be up 207% this year, with smartphone sales up 63%. Next year the CEA says we’ll be looking at 59% and 22% respectively; yes, growth is slowing but it’s still a darn sight better than other product groups.

Looking at recent Christmas shopping trends, Shawn and Steve said the ‘Black Friday’ and ‘Cyber Monday’ Thanksgiving Day discounts for pre-Christmas shoppers in the USA were crossing the Atlantic, with many UK retailers now offering the kind of pre-Christmas discounts that were previously only seen in our ‘January sales’. The ‘Groupon effect’ of daily deals was also being adopted by online retailers.

A significant number of US shoppers, having been cautious with spending throughout the year, were planning to spend generously at Christmas because they believed this was the best time for a bargain - and 76% of consumers in the USA were planning to buy some type of technology gift in 2011. When it comes to specific products, most people are hoping their technology gift will be a tablet.

Gary Shapiro, President and CEO of the CEA, took the stage to explain how CES was becoming much more about technology rather than just products - although that won’t stop around 20,000 new products being launched at CES 2012. Gary’s a firm believer that supporting innovation will help economies grow and has, quite literally, written the book.

Top trends at next year’s show are expected to include smart technology, streaming, cloud computing, touch control, voice control and apps... which is very encouraging news for the mobile industry.

Finally, to that tabletop exhibition - which didn’t have any sign of home-made jam. Instead it was the preserve [ed: ouch!] of tech-related companies.

When it comes to UK participation in CES, 36 companies have already confirmed they’ll be attending. A good handful were at CES Unveiled - and there was some impressive mobile-related technology on show.

Blippar, fresh from winning a trip to CES at this week’s TechWorld event, were there with their image recognition technology. Run the Blippar mobile app and it’ll turn a press ad, a TV advertisement or even product packaging into an interactive ‘augmented reality’ experience. Talking to co-founder Ambarish Mitra, it was easy for me to see why advertisers including Cadbury’s, Waitrose and Tesco are adopting the service: it increases consumer engagement with the advertising rather than just letting you walk away and play with a website on your mobile phone.

Recon Instruments had an Android-powered GPS-equipped micro display that fitted inside ski goggles. MOD Live enables the user to see their speed, altitude and timings for ski and snowboard activities. Very smart. (Okay, I’ll admit, I don’t really have much of a clue when it comes to snow-type activities). It’s also capable of connecting via Bluetooth with your mobile phone.

Alongside the UK exhibitors. US-based ibolt.co demonstrated audio and video streaming from an Android smartphone to a HD TV. That’s not particularly unusual - but what stands out with ibolt is their adoption of the MHL (Mobile High-Definition Link) standard. Although HDMI already offers high-definition output from many mobile phones, using the ibolt MHL kit means you’ll charge your phone at the same time... which means watching a two-hour movie won’t flatten the battery.

When it was time to go, I left with a spring in my step. For those of us working in the mobile industry, not only is our industry an exciting place to be - it also appears to be a resilient place. And that’s got to be good news at the moment.

TheFonecast.com produces a podcast about the UK mobile phone industry every week. You can find all our shows on iTunes or via an RSS reader.
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