Thu, Jan 22, 2009 - Page 12 News List

Manufacturers play it safe at CES, research firm says

By Elizabeth Tchii  /  STAFF REPORTER

Despite all the media coverage and excitement surrounding the Consumer Electronics Show held in Las Vegas earlier this month, Topology Research Institute (TRI, 拓墣產業研究所) described the innovations showcased at the exhibition as evolutionary, rather than revolutionary.

The Taipei-based research and consulting firm said that global technology firms played it safe with their product launches as they face another year of tepid consumer demand amid a worldwide economic downturn.

Despite the prevailing gloomy sentiment, TRI sees several positive growth areas — handheld devices, television and notebook computers (including netbook computers). The research institute forecast that global handset, TV and notebook shipments this year would reach 1.45 billion, 2.13 billion and 1.5 billion units respectively, representing annual growth rates of 7.1 percent, 1.7 percent and 17.9 percent.

TRI’s estimates for handsets and notebooks are higher than the Consumer Electronics Association’s (CEA) projections.

The CEA expects handset, TV and notebook shipments this year to reach 1.21 billion, 2.32 billion and 1.47 billion units, registering year-on-year increases of 2.1 percent, 2.6 percent and 8.2 percent respectively.

TRI’s Silicon Valley-based senior editor Carlos Yu (尤克熙) picked two highlights at the show — Palm Inc’s Pre smartphone and Microsoft Corp’s Windows 7 operating system launch.

Palm Pre, featuring a Web mobile platform, a touchpad like Apple’s iPhone and a QWERTY keypad like BlackBerry, is the struggling smartphone maker’s bid to reclaim its market share, Yu said.

Palm has seen its US market share plummet from more than 35 percent in 2006 to 9 percent at the end of last year, TRI data showed.

Meanwhile, Windows 7 is exciting simply because “finally there was something to replace the infamous Vista,” Yu said.

Overall, Yu said international technology firms were cautious in their offerings this year, capitalizing on the four major existing trends: ultra-thin, wireless, touch panel and green technology.

“Basically what was not wireless is now wireless. What was not green tech is now green tech, so on and so forth,” he said.

For instance, ultra-thin designs were applied to TVs and netbooks, making them under 2cm in thickness. Meanwhile, wireless capability was expanded to include products such as high definition plasma display panels, bluetooth photo frames and WiFi digital cameras.

Yahoo’s Internet TV platform stirred a lot of interest at the show, but Yu appeared unimpressed, saying conventional TVs would continue to be a “family experience” while Internet TV is more of a “single-user experience.”

Yu cited the less than 1 percent Internet TV adoption rate last year as a sign that the market was not yet ready for this technology.

On the other hand, TRI was optimistic on the outlook for netbooks this year, as a poll showed that more than 23 percent of Americans were willing to purchase netbooks in lieu of the more expensive regular notebooks.

Yu said that netbooks had entered their second phase of development, following the success of Asustek Computer Inc (華碩) and Acer Inc (宏碁). The second phase has seen more global vendors enter the field, introducing different processors, capabilities and price points to grab a piece of the pie.

As the competition gets more intense and tech companies struggle to differentiate themselves, Yu cautioned on the need for netbook makers to return to the basics and focus on low price, convenience and simplicity.

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