Our Predictions for the First Major Trade Show of 2013
As our team prepares to make its annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas for International CES, it's an opportunity to reflect on what we can look forward to.
Although the convergence of mobile technology and mass-market consumer electronics has been much-hyped in previous years, we believe the time is now right for the two areas to come together in a meaningful way.
Seismic changes have taken place in the consumer electronics space over the past decade. Microsoft, once an anchor company of the CES event, will no longer host the opening keynote presentation. It's been displaced by Qualcomm, which overtook rival semiconductor giant and long-time Microsoft partner, Intel, in terms of market capitalisation in 2013. It's highly likely that Qualcomm's CEO, Paul Jacobs, will use his keynote to articulate his company's vision of "connected everything" while underlining its leadership in LTE technology.
With all eyes now on the US as the hottest market for LTE, the technology will be a prominent theme of CES. Intel and Nvidia will probably unveil their LTE road maps at the show. Building on the flurry of announcements we saw at CES in 2012, all major smartphone makers now have flagship LTE devices and partnerships with Verizon Wireless and AT&T. Korean phone-makers LG and Samsung will be in a strong position thanks to widespread use of LTE in their home market — we predict that over half of all mobile connections in South Korea will be on LTE networks by the end of 2013. History may be repeating itself: a decade ago these players excelled in CDMA technology because of widespread adoption of the technology in South Korea.
I'm particularly looking forward to news from the consumer electronics heavyweights: LG, Samsung and Sony. First among these companies is Samsung. It seemingly has the world at its feet, leading in smart TVs and smartphones while carpet-bombing the media with its extravagant marketing campaigns and going to extraordinary lengths to tempt consumers to pick up its tablets. Samsung, like LG and Sony, will paint a picture of life in a multi-screen world. People now move between a variety of devices while online, and Samsung has a commanding position to capitalise on this.
Samsung's making moves to connect other devices as well. I have to admit I laughed out loud when Samsung talked about a washing machine being connected to a mobile phone at last year's press conference. But on reflection what's so wrong about getting a message on my phone to say a wash load has ended? The company's WF457 washing machine and DV457 dryer, for example, use Wi-Fi to communicate with a Galaxy S III phone. These products herald a time when disparate items in the home will all be talking to each other — assuming you buy them all from the same manufacturer.
Another area to watch is the trend of putting SIM cards into devices apart from phones. Samsung's Galaxy Camera is the best example of this to date, and forms what is arguably the first ever true camera phone. Previous incarnations have always been phone first, camera second. In this case, it's a camera first with mobile phone capability (using Android) built in. We expect Samsung to really push this story hard. It may release more connected devices, including perhaps more cameras and a camcorder, especially US carriers' focus on tariffs with multiple SIM cards associated with one data bundle.
As always, Apple remains notable by its absence from CES. The company will have a proxy presence in the form of over 350 companies hawking Apple-related accessories in the iLounge Pavilion. Here we expect to see everything from flashy covers, robots controlled by iPhones and accessories to turn iPads into retro video game consoles.
The huge number of these (sometimes pointless) accessories is a testament to Apple's dominance. Our most recent forecast indicates that one in four Americans now owns a tablet, with the vast majority being iPads. We predict an explosion of tablet-like and PC-hybrid devices at CES, many powered by Windows 8 and all of them trying to further blur the distinction between laptops, Ultrabooks and tablets. As in previous years, there'll also be a ridiculous number of cheap Android powered tablets — many of which will never appear in retail. You can be sure there'll be a whole host of super-cheap Android smartphones too.
Another major theme will be delivering content across these multiple screens. We expect all the big players to announce content partnerships and bundles — it'll be an essential ingredient in 2013. Last year, Samsung executives were bursting with excitement as they announced a deal to put Angry Birds on their latest smart TV. This year we could see even an bigger announcement; is it time for a major electronics provider to tie up a big deal with a content king like Disney?
One company that has a wealth of content assets is Sony, and 2013 is a critical year for the Japanese giant. This time last year it had just closed the deal to take control of the Sony Ericsson joint venture. The company had just enough time to put Sony stickers on the Sony Ericsson products it was exhibiting, but this time around it should have a complete end-to-end story — even the mobile phone HQ has moved from Sweden to Japan.
A lot is resting on Sony's success, perhaps even the hopes of an entire nation. The heady days of Japanese companies dominating the global consumer electronics market are a distant memory, and as the Japanese population experiences its biggest drop in history, the home market is no longer enough: consistent international success is vital to the future health of the Japanese economy. Sony will need to put on a dazzling show and prove to the world that it can use all its assets to help seize some of the initiative back from its Korean rivals.
Meanwhile the Koreans will be looking over their shoulders at Chinese upstarts like Huawei, TCL and ZTE. There is a strong argument that Chinese companies could do to the Koreans what the Koreans did to the Japanese. Huawei and ZTE have indicated they'll have flagship devices at the show that should grab some headlines. And recent scrutiny by the US government means they'll be mounting a substantial PR offensive as well.
My biggest hope for the show is that we'll see technology that real people will embrace. It is, after all, called the Consumer Electronics Show. One area where this really needs to happen is smart TVs. These have been a consistent feature of the show for several years, but I really get a sense that we are starting to enter an era where consumers now understand that the biggest screen in their home is much more than a device to watch linear TV. This is why the battle for the ownership of the living room has never been more important than this year at International CES.