NEW YORK (AdAge.com) -- We've become a nation of early adopters -- now can the consumer electronics industry lead the U.S. recovery? That's what CE manufacturers (who happen to include a few of the world's biggest consumer marketers) hope for as they gather in Las Vegas this week for the annual Consumer Electronics Show.
1. 3-D TVSAvatar is in theaters, but is there a James Cameron fanboy out there who will buy it on Blu-ray in plain old 2-D? Maybe, but look for CE manufacturers to promise a coming generation of sets with 3-D capability in hopes of getting a piggyback effect on the $150 million spent marketing the film. There's a lot separating vapor from reality on this one, including that there is no established format for home 3-D, but that won't stop set manufacturers from claiming they're close.
2. E-READERSRecord sales for the Amazon's Kindle and print publishers' hopes for subscription dollars make the segment one of the hotter sectors at this year's CES. The one to watch for will come from Plastic Logic, which is using the show to introduce its Que reader, which promises newspaper and magazine publishers a better share of revenue and more subscriber information than the Kindle. Others in the e-reader fray include Entourage Systems, which will show off a two-screened device that combines an e-reader and a netbook, not to mention Aluratek's Libre, the Astak EZ Reader, Booken's Cybook Opus, Interead's Cool-er, and the Western Graphics PocketBook.
3. NETBOOKSThey were the rage at last year's show and the industry is bracing for another tsunami of these low-cost, net-connected laptops running Intel's Atom processor. But the bigger story here is the impact of Google's Chrome operating system designed to optimize Google's free cloud apps such as Docs and Gmail. Google is working with hardware manufacturers, and TechCrunch believes that in addition to developing its own phone (see trend No. 8), Google will build, market and sell its own branded netbook by the end of the year.
4. PAID CONTENTContent generally takes a backseat at CES, but this year the show devotes an entire day-long track, called "Content, Creativity and Cash," to emerging paid models for content and how net-connected TVs, e-readers, tablets and mobile phones enable this new ecosystem. Not surprising: CBS and NBC Universal both have big stakes in how the CE industry interacts with content and both have huge roles in this year's show, the former as owner of CNET and the latter as official TV sponsor (CNBC broadcasts from the floor).
5. WHAT WILL APPLE DO?The world believes Apple will roll out a tablet computer in February, and that will cast a long shadow over the first generation of e-readers and netbooks on display at CES. But more significant than the hardware will be the paid-content models it could enable for newspapers, magazines, TV and film. Paid, iTunes-like downloads are an obvious feature, but Apple is reported to be negotiating a subscription service for TV which could change everything.
6. CONNECTED CARSFord CEO Allan Mullaly takes the opening CES keynote this year to tout the next generation of Ford's Sync system, but that's just the tip of the iceberg of the new auto technologies for handling media, directions, communications and even car diagnostics. But just as car tech reaches fever pitch, so too does growing concern of the impact of all this technology on, well, actual driving. Congressional hearings are scheduled on "driving while distracted," which is quickly becoming the new drunk driving. So expect CE and auto companies to pitch their tech as enhancing, rather than handicapping driver skills.
7. REAL-TIME WEBThe real-time web arrived in 2009 so we foresee a deluge of new applications that make the stream of Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare updates relevant and useful to consumers and marketers. Included in this are location-based applications that deliver both locally relevant information (and marketing) to individuals and all the requisite privacy concerns.
8. MOBILEWith no new iPhone to jawbone about, the spotlight will be on Google's Android and the host of new applications unveiled in December, including visual search such as Google Goggles. Adding to the din will be speculation over the Google-branded phone, Nexus One, rumored to be unveiled with T-Mobile in January.
9. GREEN TECHLast year Greenpeace singled out members of the CE industry for "green" marketing claims that have little or no basis in reality. This year, device makers are cranking up the green claims with low-power devices, solar chargers and home energy monitors. CNET reports that there will be 30 exhibitors in CES's Sustainable Planetzone this year, up from 20 in 2009.
10. ERR, RECOVERY?Fueled by both the business-upgrade cycle and by consumer discretionary spending, consumer electronics are a bellweather for the economy. So, how's the economy doing? We already know consumers are willing to spend more for a web-connected phone, but what will make them consider a new flat-screen? Watch for marketers to presume (actually, hope) that the worst is over and that the economy can only get better from here.
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Contributing: Nat Ives, Brian Steinberg
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