News from this year's Consumer Electronics Show reveals that the high-tech industry won't develop a game-changing technology anytime soon.
In fact, much of the technology at CES reflects an industry fiddling around the edges with designs that add or reduce the size of a mobile device, sharpen images with more megapixels, increase battery life, and provide 3D technology to TVs without viewers having to wear glasses. This is the kind of incremental change that won't significantly impact consumers' work life or leisure time in the way that the 2010 introduction of Apple's iPad did.
This year, CES comes at a time when many companies are grappling to stay relevant. Nokia, Hewlett-Packard, Acer, and Research in Motion, to name a few, are companies that have lost their competitive edge. This has caused lackluster sales and poor financial performance as their competitors have developed better products in the smartphone and tablet market. Furthermore, slow PC sales, the economic crisis in Europe, and tepid economic growth in the US don't offer the most stimulating environment to develop new, game-changing technologies that are unique, attractive, carry an affordable price point, and have an industry-wide impact.
The tech industry needs another game-changing technology that will give it a fresh chance to innovate around something new. What that new ground-breaking technology will be, however, is still anyone's guess, but a company or group of companies that produces the next industry-wide game-changing technology will not only spark growth but also energize a tech industry that now counts only a handful of successful original equipment manufacturers. So much, perhaps too much, of what's sold in the market today as outstanding products are nothing more than unremarkable incremental improvements on existing devices. They aren't game-changing devices or technologies. We are still waiting for remarkable improvements on products or outstanding innovations.
Back to CES. Reports are that the hottest technologies on display this year are the Ultra High-Definition TVs, also referred to as 4K televisions that have four times as many pixels as previous versions of high-definition TVs. However, TVs don't bring the masses in droves to stores like tablets and smartphones do, especially TVs like the one showed off by LG Electronics at CES — a 55-inch OLED TV that has a price tag of $12,000.
Still, one bright spot, according to analysts, is phablets — combination of a phone and tablet — that hold some promise. In his review of noteworthy devices displayed at CES, Richard Shim, an analyst at DisplaySearch, points to phablets such as Samsung's Galaxy Note with its 5-inch screen and the upgraded 5.5-inch Galaxy Note II, as well as Huawei's Ascend Mate, a new 6.1-inch smartphone and the Ascend D2.
In the tablet PC market, Shim identifies Lenovo’s IdeaCentre Horizon, which are tabletop PCs in two sizes, the 27-inch and 39-inch models, as well as Sony’s Vaio Tap 20, which has a 20-inch display. These technologies are capable of standing upright like a desktop PC or being laid flat on a desk, which are features that Shim believes consumers may find attractive enough to purchase.
Yet, Shim had this insightful observation about these technologies:
- Both the phablet and the table PC categories represent the extreme end of a form factor trend that we expect to see throughout 2013. The traditional lines that have been used to define, categorize, and track devices are expected to only become more difficult to maintain. We anticipate that brands will experiment with new designs and form factors in search of versions that will resonate with consumers to drive adoption.
While we don't project that any design change will ultimately translate to an industry-wide increase in shipment growth (i.e., we are forecasting a -5 percent Y/Y shipment growth for notebook PCs) we anticipate that brands can score image points and credibility with consumers for willing to be bold with design. That has translated to good fortune for Apple so it should not be underestimated.
For those of us looking forward to the introduction of ground-breaking technology, this year's CES event tells us that we'll have to wait. How long will we have to wait? It's really anyone's guess.