Despite its absence, Apple will loom over CES
What do you call it when you have 120,000 people and an elephant in the room?
The International Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks off this week in Las Vegas.
The elephant is Apple Inc. It won’t be at the show this year, but its tablet computer, the iPad, is the most important new product for an industry that needs to once again excite consumers. Sales of the iPad have been strong since its April debut, and the whole industry is now trying to mimic Apple’s success.
Apple itself doesn’t do trade shows. When Apple has new products to reveal, it stages its own events.
But nearly every other company in the industry will be there for CES, which runs Thursday to Sunday and is the largest trade show of any kind in the Americas. A good many of them will show off their tablets — computing slabs with touch-sensitive screens. Big names expected to do so include Motorola Inc. and Dell Inc.
DisplaySearch analyst Richard Semenza estimated that a hundred different tablet models are in development, though not all of them will reach store shelves.
Competing tablets will have a hard time catching up to Apple’s lead, at least this year. Certainly, no one managed to do so last year, even though a lot of manufacturers, including Dell, brought out tablets. Samsung did have some success with its Galaxy Tab, but sales didn’t come close to the iPad’s.
Apple’s would-be competitors include Motorola, which has been hinting that it will show off its first tablet at the show. Dell and Acer Inc. are also expected to show tablets. The chief executive of Microsoft Corp., Steve Ballmer, could touch on tablets in his keynote speech Wednesday, an annual fixture the eve of the show’s opening.
The electronics industry’s need for a hot new product is especially strong this year. Overall, the recent holiday season was the best for retailers since 2007, but electronics sales were up just 1.2 percent from the previous year, according to MasterCard SpendingPulse, which tracks spending across all transactions.
Technologies that have been promoted at CES in recent years have been met with tepid interest from consumers.
At last year’s CES, Japanese and Korean TV makers showed off 3-D TVs as a way to keep consumers buying newer TVs. But when the sets hits stores a few months later, sales were disappointing. Samsung Electronics Co. estimates all manufacturers combined sold 1 million 3-D sets in the United States in 2010, far short of its initial estimate of 3 million to 4 million.
This year, manufacturers aren’t giving up on 3-D, but some of them are likely to change their strategy to make 3-D viewing a bit more affordable and comfortable.