There’s More to Consumer Electronics Than Apple & the iPad

Tunnel vision is becoming a problem for the electronics industry. One company and a handful of products are dominating discussions in a trillion-dollar market, and this is making it difficult for many industry players, OEMs, component vendors, software vendors, and other third-party services providers to realize potentials for huge sales growth outside of smartphones, tablet PCs, and digital music players.

If you haven't got the drift of my argument here, let me put it a bit more bluntly: There's a lot more to the electronics industry than {complink 379|Apple Inc.} and the iPad, iPhone, iPod, and whatever other iProducts are coming down the pike. For an industry where annual semiconductor sales have barreled even through a recession to hit more than $300 billion, and where global electronics revenue exceeds $1 trillion, we all seem to be oblivious to the possibility the high-tech universe does not revolve around planet Apple. The company's sales are huge and its growth potentials tremendous, but opportunities exist elsewhere for hardware and software development, and I am afraid we are missing many of these.

Here's an example: I attended a presentation given one year or so ago by {complink 9538|NXP Semiconductors N.V.} at the annual LightFair International Convention held in Philadelphia and saw some cool stuff I wished I could right away install at home. They had wireless chips installed in lighting fixtures (bulbs) and electrical outlets. The presenter demonstrated how you could control all the lights and outlets in the house from a simple remote controller.

From the living room, you could check and make sure all lights in all sections of the house were off or on, depending on your preference. You could see which outlets were being used (for instance, if the iron is plugged in and inadvertently left on) and turn these on or off. You could also control (switch on or off and program) your stove, heating system, hot water boiler, TV, stereo system, exterior lights, the security system, awning, etc. Anything that can be connected to a power source can be remotely powered off or on and programmed. Fascinating.

The guy had me, seriously. Then he sank the hook in deeper. It turns out I can do all of these from my smartphone, remotely — from Iceland, Mongolia, Senegal, or a nearby office in New York — as long as I have wireless reception. I was sold. This wasn't some futuristic thing. It's here now, the NXP presenter said, and all I had to do was engage with some company that has partnered with the European chip vendor to bring these to market. Power supply companies in Europe are particularly interested in these lighting inventions and are beginning to roll these out, in addition to their deployment of smart meters.

A recent blog by EBN Europe contributor Jennifer Baljko brought this back to my mind and got me wondering how far the industry has gone in implementing this lighting revolution. (See: Wireless Connectivity & the ROI Conundrum.) I also watch with some amusement and a dash of disappointment how the industry and buyers have become obsessed with only one segment of the consumer electronics industry — smartphones and tablets — ignoring other sections that promise even greater utility and savings.

Today, the media is devoting a lot of time and attention to speculations that Apple is about to unveil an update to its iPad tablet PC. The obsession is a global phenomenon; in Canada, the Globe and Mail newspaper is providing “live coverage of Apple’s product announcement.” The paper talked about “iPad fever,” and I wonder if we are not the ones driving up temperatures artificially. In the US, most news organizations have writers on high alert to provide running commentaries on the event. I have personally received several emails from analysts commenting on the Apple event, whereas the company itself has not confirmed or denied the speculations that the announcement would be about the iPad.

OK, we shouldn't begrudge Apple the goodwill it has with consumers and the media, but there's still a lot more happening in this industry that deserve some attention. By focusing solely on one product segment and company, many of us are missing out on the bigger picture. Never has the worn adage “a tree does not make a forest” been more relevant, in my opinion. Opportunities exist in lighting for creative designs, software apps, and manufacturing.

Sales opportunities are opening up in other segments of the consumer electronics industry like lighting, creating jobs and offering astute investors new areas for investment growth. But many, including companies operating in this industry, don't even know about these new areas because the prevailing sentiment is that if you don't have a product designed into the iPad, the iPhone, the iPod, or the next-generation products from Apple, you don't exist.

Let me return to the LightFair event. NXP was the only semiconductor company at the show I attended. There are others in the semiconductor; PCB; enclosures; and interconnects, passives, and electromechanical (IP&E) markets that also sell products into the fledgling lighting industry, but many chose not to attend LightFair because they didn't see the potentials here for revenue growth. I'd like to spell it out here. The sales potential is huge, starting with bulbs, as described above, but extending to all other household equipment.

The NXP executive at LightFair explained that the new lighting products do not require rewiring a house to work. It is simply plug-and-play for bulbs, and changing outlets for power connections. The iPad and tablets are probably as revolutionary as some people believe, but there's a lot more happening in the industry that will drive growth — if we would only open our eyes to these opportunities.

25 comments on “There’s More to Consumer Electronics Than Apple & the iPad

  1. bolaji ojo
    March 7, 2012

    I have been reading up on Apple's latest iPad launch and it represents only incremental improvement on the previous product. It didn't wow. We'll see if consumers line up to buy it.

  2. _hm
    March 7, 2012

    Apple has worked very hard for three decades to earn this postion. This unique position may last for few more years and new leader will challenge Apple.

    I eagerly await Apple TV.


  3. bolaji ojo
    March 7, 2012

    _hm, You don't have much to wait for Apple TV. The company unveiled an updated Apple TV today for about the same price. It's supposed to be better than whatever else is out there in the market. But don't take anyone's word for it. Check it out but don't ignore competing devices either.

  4. prabhakar_deosthali
    March 8, 2012

    Since it is finally the consumer who decides what he buys and what he likes, we have to admit that the consumers have put Apple at the top.

    As long as Apple continues to provide innovative products to the consumers, nobody will be able to replace its top position.

    The 80's decade was of PCs and Laptops – it belonged to Microsoft ,IBM and the likes. That time it all seemed that the world of electronics was only about producing PCs and the world of software was all around MS Windows.

    This scenario keeps changing – during late 90's it was all about solving y2K

    And then Sun Mircosystems was in limelight with its Java and the whole world seemed to be revolving around Java Applets.



  5. bolaji ojo
    March 8, 2012

    Prabhakar, Apple's announcement of the new iPad landed with a thud for me. It certainly is an improvement on the previous product but that's not what many have come to expect from Apple. The same happened with the iPhone upgrade and it still sold a lot. I believe the iPad3 will sell a lot also but the shine is falling off.

  6. t.alex
    March 8, 2012

    I am a bit surprised by the revival of Apple TV. Look at google TV. It is not doing well.

  7. chipmonk
    March 8, 2012

    Complacency / conservatism / confusion / foolishness in the board room and market saturation are what topples front runners in the Tech industry ( example : Motorola, Kodak ).

    IMHO that Apple is far from getting to these inflexion points.

    I have been a long time critic of Apple's slave labor practices ( and have debated Bolaji on this board when he was a diehard Apple partisan ) but I am almost happy with the way Tim Cook & Co. has now reacted to the China question.

    Apple's is challenged by Google ( Android ) and Samsung ( IDM w/ leadership in critical components like SoC, Memory and OMOLEDs to systems like SmartPhones Tablets ) and if anything it makes their creative juices flow and develop new combinations of technology – business models.

    ex-Hippy Steve Jobs trusted the 'do no evil' Googlers and got burnt with Android. Don't think Tim Cook will do the same.

  8. Hawk
    March 8, 2012

    It's like the company thinks it can't afford to dump Apple TV. I don't know many people who use it. Apple may believe it is one of the legs for its future success. In other words, Apple TV is not about now but about the future.

  9. bolaji ojo
    March 8, 2012

    chipmonk, You read me so well I am not sure I know myself anymore. Others have said I am too tough on Apple but somehow you figured I was a “diehard Apple partisan “. Anyway, I agree Apple is trying to change some of its practices but only under pressure. The company hasn't and won't admit many of its previous practices were wrong or that it looked the other way while its contractors engaged in practices that won't be accepted in the west.

    By the way, how's business? Any headway with your efforts in India? Let's know on these pages how India is changing and if you still believe the country can make a breakthrough in semiconductor manufacturing.

  10. Barbara Jorgensen
    March 8, 2012

    I think I have finally hit iFatigue. I am underwhelmed by the new iPad and annoyed by the company's quip that they didn't name the device because they wanted to remain unpredictable. I know Apple has the reputation for being arrogant, but something about this rubbed me the wrong way.

  11. chipmonk
    March 8, 2012

    Bolaji : as to what made me think that you used to be an Apple partisan was your blogs about 3 months back and your defense of Apple when I outlined my gripes against them. You actually erased one of my long post on that topic from your website.

    Although your guess that I have something to do with semiconductor is spot on ( been involved in R&D for semiconductor technology at the largest IDMs here for the last 25 years ) I am wondering what information led you to believe that I had anything to do with India, and whether you used your position as the Editor of this blog to secure that information ??  

    BTW I do not believe that India has a clue about how to target the right segment of semiconductors for domestic manufacturing. They are fixated on high end logic & ICs ( because a lot of the circuit design also is outsourced to India these days ), when there are many new opportunities at the low end that they use in volume but are still importing ( perhaps from China ).

  12. bolaji ojo
    March 8, 2012

    Chipmonk, Though I think you have some valid points, I don't completely agree with you about India. Dubai is wading into the high-end IC manufacturing business and this may be the direction India wants to take too. Will they be able to achieve it and does the country and its private sector have the resources to pull it off? I don't believe so. EBN readers can benefit from your background and I am interested in your viewpoint on India. Please contact me directly at

    By the way, I am indeed partisan — partisan on EBN, our readers and the electronics supply chain.

  13. Ariella
    March 9, 2012

    @Barbara I know what you mean. It does come across as very smug.

  14. itguyphil
    March 9, 2012

    My question is always this: “If there's nothing revolutionary or amazing about a new 'version', why release it”?

    I look at it like movie sequels. If the next one up isn't as good or better than the previous, why release it? It makes sense to make the storyline better, THEN release… right??

  15. dalexander
    March 10, 2012

    Barbara, I called an engineering friend who works at Apple and asked him if the company was going to give him a new IPad 3. His answer wasn't yes or no, but “It isn't an iPad 3, it is just the “New IPad”. I thought that was a most curious response to my questiion, so I asked him why they didn't call it the iPad 3? He answered that the whole company was invited to an internal meeting before the announcement, and all the employees were introduced to the “New iPad” and not the IPad 3. I think the concept they are trying to promote is the same as car dealers when they claim “This is not your Father's Oldsmobile.”. This latest and greatest market speak is a verbal technique to separate the old from the new, the young from the outdated, and is designed to motivate people to “get with the program.” that technique is so 27 seconds ago. Samsung has it down to an art with their new ads.

  16. ahdand
    March 10, 2012

    Why do you think Apple is not that important to the world of electronics ? I think they revolutionalized the world of technology and electronics both with their thinking capabilities and that makes them very important to the world of technology as well as for electronics.

  17. JADEN
    March 11, 2012

    If you look at smartphone market especially in the US, people are so obsessed with Apple products. Some people eat, sleep and breathe Apple, they watch new  products being released and line up all hours of the night to buy. If you like Apple products and think they work well for you, fine.  But it's beyond that, most people want it because it's an Apple not because it's something they actually want.

  18. Clairvoyant
    March 11, 2012

    That's true, Jaden. Apple has been very successful in creating a brand that everyone wants.

  19. Susan Fourtané
    March 12, 2012

    Great blog, Bolaji. 

    Could it be the nature of the human being, or at least the human being of this century, to narrow the information available to the point that we are talking about the same old few hot topics over and over without paying attention to what else is going on in the electronics inustry, as you have well pointed it out? 

    Of course the iPad, and the iPhone are revolutionary, innovative, and great in many ways. But I agree with you and your fascination when knowing what you can or could do today in your home in terms of lighting, and all the implications this may bring, e.g. energy savings. 


  20. Daniel
    March 12, 2012

    Bolaji, you are right. I think for almost last 2-3 months, most of the technical community and online medias are talking about IPad 3 and its expected features. The debates are going like I pad is the only tablet so far released and neglecting the other prominent players like Samsung, Blackberry etc.

  21. Daniel
    March 12, 2012

    Nimantha.d, you are right, they are one of the foremost advanced player in Smartphone and tabs. But that doesn't mean that they are the only players and others are also eligible for similar attention and popularity.

  22. bolaji ojo
    March 13, 2012

    Jacob, That's unlikely to stop anytime soon. It's going to be i-this, i-this, i-everyplace, i-everything, i-everywhere for some time! I am not going to blame Apple, though. What happened to the competition?

  23. t.alex
    March 16, 2012

    Hawk, that's a good point. Apple always has the surprise factor that we try to speculate.

  24. Anne
    March 17, 2012

    @ Jaden,

    You are right, most people are really crazy about Apple products that they couldn't even think about any other product. I believe other industries can deliver more than Apple.

  25. ahdand
    March 24, 2012

    Yes Im not simply saying that they are the only but they hold the key thats it

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