CES: Gadget Sales Expected To Roar Back

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A packed house in a meeting room at The Venetian in Las Vegas hears the 2011 sales forecast for consumer electronics

A packed house in a meeting room at The Venetian in Las Vegas hears the 2011 sales forecast for consumer electronics

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Consumer electronics sales should come roaring back in 2011 on the strength of new tablet computers, smartphones, and yes, high-tech devices embedded in automobiles.

That was the word Tuesday in Las Vegas in the opening presentations of the 2011 International Consumer Electronics Show.

Shawn DuBravac, chief economist and director of research at the Consumer Electronics Assocation, which stages CES, and CEA chief research analyst Ben Arnold, offered four major trends for consumer electronics this year.

* Portable vs. pocketable: More than 100 new tablet computers are to be introduced at this year’s CES — challengers to the iPad, with screens five to 15 inches in size. (Ironically, DuBravac recalled the day when CEA members used to sell TV sets with screens that size.) There will be cutthroat competition among tablet computers at price points between $300 and $450, with winners emerging based on differentiation in form factor, in what you can actually use the thing for, and integration of other sensing technologies like touch screens, cameras and accelerometers. Tablet computer sales are expected to hit nearly 30 million in 2011, nearly double 2010’s mark.

* The ‘intelligence of things’ — processors, applications and online communities enabling greater flexibility and ubiquitousness of consumer electronic devices. Some of the items mentioned just sound silly — for example, the iGrill, a meat thermometer that sends temperature signals to an iPhone. But others sound eminently sensible, like Internet-enabled TVs that allow streaming video watching alongside ‘regular’ TV. Sales of such TVs are projected to grow from 3.2 million last year to 5.2 million this year to 16.5 million by 2011.

* Miniaturization and ‘Sensor’-ization — sensors are getting smaller and less expensive, which allows their placement in more and more devices. The iPhone is a fine example — it contains two cameras, a gyroscope and an accelerometer. More and more consumer electronic devices will follow suit, including the automobile. In fact, they said the auto has some of the highest-tech sensors most consumers ever use, and more are on the way. And Microsoft has found a real winner in its Kinect game controller, selling 2.5 million of the devices in 25 days.

* From amplification to ‘app’lification — more and more apps will be available to customize the user experience in a wider and wider variety of consumer electronics devices.

Overall, worldwide consumer electronics sales are predicted to grow from $873 billion in 2010 to $964 billion in 2011. That was after sales of $849 billion in 2008 and $771 billion in 2009, as the Great Recession whacked sales.

There’s real pent-up demand and a return to spending in the developed world, CEA officials say, and booming growth in emerging markets. And in the United States, drug store and grocery chains are now adding consumer electronics products.

Press Day at CES is Wednesday; I’ll be visiting around a dozen Michigan technology companies exhibiting at the giant show.

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