Intel CEO Paul Otellini

Report: CES2011 in Las Vegas

A round-up of what was happening in the consumer electronics industry at CES2011 in Las Vegas.

Developing economies lead CE market recovery

This year could see emerging economies overtake North America and Western Europe combined as markets for consumer electronics (CE), according to research released at CES2011.

In their initial 2011 Digital World forecast, the US Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) and European agency GfK have the two developed regions' combined share slightly ahead at 39 per cent. Asia and South America will have 37 per cent, led by the BRIC quartet: Brazil, Russia, India and China. Value will be $373bn against $357bn.

The global CE market could also exceed a trillion dollars for the first time, although the current Digital World prediction falls just short at $964bn, up 10 per cent on 2010's $873bn. The CE market is recovering briskly, having risen 13 per cent last year on 2009.

There is, however, one big question mark, an aggressive GfK forecast of 23 per cent year-on-year growth for Western Europe in 2011. GfK bases this on a release of pent-up demand in the EU and adjoining states.

The CEA is forecasting 15 per cent growth in North America for the same reason, though Steve Koenig, its director for industry analysis, told CES his organisation feels the European number 'might be optimistic'.

One major concern is the impact of austerity measures in countries such as the UK, France, Italy and Spain. The public sector in these markets accounts for a comparatively high proportion of employment and therefore consumer spending.

A further factor in the European numbers is that they include Value Added Tax. Its rate varies considerably across the EU, and several countries temporarily cut VAT during the downturn to boost consumer sales. Then there is the potentially volatile currency rate, amid continuing credit market twitchiness over the euro.

With only $16bn separating the two regional forecasts, lower-than-expected performance from Western Europe could tip the balance in favour of the BRICs – a change that Koenig expects to see in the next couple of years.

The growth of the BRICs and other predominantly Asian economies is already having a big impact on product design.

In the burgeoning health and wellness sector, Asia is seen as the more rapid adopter. It is developing mobile communications infrastructure more quickly and there is greater government support for widespread adoption.

One leading health OEM said: 'In the developed nations, there's still a lot of debate about where these devices stand. Are they simply sources of information or are they diagnostic? That question has serious implications for their approvals regimes. In, for example, China or Singapore, you have governments that have populations demanding major improvements in healthcare and they can simply say, 'Right, let's do this'.'

Intel eyes next-generation TV market

Intel’s second generation of its Core processors, the i-series, represents the company’s most aggressive attempt yet to go beyond the PC and reposition itself as a ‘TV everywhere’ company.As expected, the quad-core mobile, desktop and general purpose chips will feature an integrated graphics core alongside boosted performance. The strategy is partly aimed at encouraging OEMs to stop using separate lower-end GPUs from rivals like AMD (ATI) and Nvidia.

However, their increased capability also shows Intel taking a cue from Apple, which is shifting the iPad mostly on its capabilities as a content-consumption device.

One of the busiest men at CES was Intel futurist Brian David Johnson, whose new book, ‘Screen Future’, sets out the vision of a world in which by 2015 there will be 500 billion hours of content on the Web and up to 15 billion connected devices looking to organise and access it.

TV, he said, is becoming a consumer-controlled mix of broadcaster-supplied programming, packaged and downloaded media, social networking and more. This view is driving Intel’s technology roadmap for the next decade.

The company has been after the TV for years – and its attempts to move beyond microprocessors for computers have not always been successful. But this time, the play seems more closely integrated with – rather than parallel to – its main activities.

Tablet-makers rush to show their wares

Much of the hype at CES2011 surrounded tablet computers, with around 100 products being launched into the iPad-dominated segment. But, behind the glitz, several leading companies were either protecting their wares closely or admitting they are not yet ready.Demos of BlackBerry’s Playbook with its proprietary operating system (OS) were still driven by BlackBerry staff.

A more significant admission came from Motorola Mobility CEO Sanjay Jha, who showed off the forthcoming Xoom tablet but said his company was withholding demos because the Honeycomb 3.0 version of Google’s Android OS is not ready. The open-source Honeycomb OS is optimised for tablets and could be a step-change, supporting big displays and processor-hungry applications. It could boost the capability of iPad rivals for 3G and 4G cellular networks and seed new industrial, embedded and consumer designs.

Lenovo had another Android-based hybrid, the IdeaPad U1 (aka ‘LePad’) where the screen can be detached from the keyboard. It’s available in China, but sources suggest wider roll-outs also wait on Honeycomb.

Marketeers acknowledged that some products were being rushed on display because CES offered a chance for them to win column inches before “the first rev on the iPad comes along and sucks all the oxygen out of the room.”

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