CES Kicks Off With Focus on Tablets, Smart Phones, and Internet TVs

The world’s biggest consumer electronics show, officially known as CES International 2011, is holding some preview events this evening, with the main event opening tomorrow for 126,000 registered attendees at the Las Vegas Convention Center.

Global retail sales of consumer electronics are expected to grow by 10 percent this year, from $873 billion in 2010 to $964 billion in 2011, according to the show’s sponsor, the Consumer Electronics Association. (Global sales grew by 13 percent in 2010, after a 9 percent decline in 2009.)

The hottest categories aren’t too hard to predict: smart phones, tablets, and TVs. The question really is which devices in each category will prove to be the most innovative and popular. Many of the electronics products that will be launched in the next few days are intended to compete against devices introduced by Apple—but Apple doesn’t participate in the year’s biggest tech event.

Apple nevertheless looms large. E-readers were on the list of hot products at last year’s CES—until Apple introduced its iPad tablet. This year tablets are hot, and many companies are reserving their product launch for CES. “I have a list of 80+ tablets that have been announced and many of these will see the light of day at the 2011 CES,” writes Shawn Dubravac, the CEA’s chief economist and director of research. And no wonder: Analysts estimate that Apple has sold nearly 13 million iPads, which start at $499.

TVs provide an even better example of the inherent challenge for manufacturers in breaking through the competitive clutter. One of the biggest “trends” of the 2010 CES was 3D television, which was buoyed by the sensational theatrical success of Avatar, the sci-fi adaptation of the Pocahontas story in 3D. But consumers didn’t exactly embrace 3D TVs, and now the CES marketing machines are buzzing (and tweeting) about Internet-enabled “smart TV.” The important nuance, though, is more about the practicality of Internet-enabled TV, and how it can be used.

Roughly 10 to 20 percent of the TVs shipped in 2010 were Internet-ready, which is expected to exceed 50 percent in two to three years, according to analyst John F. Bright of Avondale Partners. “We expect the major consumer electronics makers to dedicate more effort to honing their connected solutions in 2011,” Bright writes in a CES preview. “In our view, three things are needed for a successful approach: relationships with the key studios and OEMs, a simple user interface, and reasonable, transparent pricing.”

Because the market remains unsettled, opportunities still abound for companies that make Internet TV possible, including San Diego’s Entropic Communications, which makes set-top boxes, and DivX, the digital video codec developer that is now part of Sonic Solutions (NASDAQ: SNIC).

San Diego’s Qualcomm and Sony Electronics are expected to be two of the largest exhibitors at CES. Other San Diego-area companies exhibiting at the show are Globatel Media, Iomega, Jitterbug, Mad Catz, Novatel Wireless, Packet Video, Pathway Innovations & Technologies, Quality Systems Integrated, Steren Electronics, Telcentris (VoxOx), Trexta, VNA Group, and Zealth Audio.

Bruce V. Bigelow was the editor of Xconomy San Diego from 2008 to 2018. Read more about his life and work here. Follow @bvbigelow

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