CES 2010 projects post-recession optimism

Vendors show off slew of next-generation devices despite flat sales projections

The 2010 International CES show is a testimony to optimism.

While global consumer electronics sales are expected to remain flat through 2010 compared to 2009 due to the recession, vendors of smartphones, LCD TVs and a wide range of other products are still writing software, building hardware and marketing new concepts.

The next consumer electronics generation will be on display tomorrow when the show opens and the 2,000-plus can show off their wares and plans. On Tuesday, hundreds of reporters and analysts from around the world got a taste of the products to be shown off by some 65 of the vendors -- while stuffing their faces with finger foods.

Carl Howe, an analyst at Yankee Group, said that the gathered crowd and some of the devices indicated a sense of hope emerging from the ravages caused by a serious recession. "People are upbeat," he said.

Howe and other visitors said that the struggling economy hasn't caused CES to fall from its perch as a mainstay technology show that offers the world a look at the status and future of consumer electronics markets.

The technology shown off by the 65 vendors Tuesday included everything from 3D high definition televisions to Internet radio boomboxes, along with gaming devices and wireless charging products.

The A.R. Drone (for Augmented Reality) , a gaming device that hovered several feet above the ballroom floor under the power of four small helicopter-like propellers, attracted the biggest crowd.

Designed by Parrot in Paris and introduced on Tuesday, the drone includes two cameras that can connect to an iPhone or iPod Touch handheld through a Wi-Fi network generated by the Drone. The images can be transmitted to an online game for multiple players, allowing a user to maneuver through space in the game, as well as real life. Parrot announced the device is now open to gaming developers.

Parrot CEO Henri Seydoux said the Drone is intended, in part, to "bring games to the outdoors, so online gamers can play outside." But the device is also designed for indoor use. Pricing has not been announced, and it will ship later in 2010, he added in a brief interview.

Also popular at the event was a Samsung Mobile's live TV broadcast showing an Android smartphone that was equipped with a special antenna that can also be used as a stylus. Next to Samsung Mobile's booth, a spokesman for the Open Mobile Video Coalition said that a wide variety of new consumer devices, including netbooks, smartphones and laptops will begin to appear from various manufacturers in 2010 to receive digital TV broadcasts from local TV stations.

Internet streaming radio has been around for years, but Pure, a London-based company, showed an entire line of Internet radio boxes that it will sell to consumers mid-year at its Web site and eventually at U.S. retailers. The line will range in price from $149 to $449, a spokeswoman said.

The Evoke radio has been selling in similar form in England since 2002 and has attracted a large following, giving listeners the ability to hear FM radio as some 1,200 streaming Internet stations.

Howe said radio and TV media delivered to small devices, either by Internet or broadcast, will be an active market segment. Part of the reason he attended CES was to begin to measure its potential impact on the consumer market.

The Consumer Electronics Association, which sponsors and runs the CES event, has identified a melding of devices with new delivery modes for content as a strong consumer electronics trend in 2010.

High definition and 3D TV sets are also expected to be hot in 2010, after being held back somewhat by the recession, CEA officials said.

Some of the same vendors who were showing HD TV sets a year ago at CES showed up again with bigger and better products. For example, a Mitsubishi Digital Electronics America employee showed off an 82-inch 3D-ready TV, while handing bystanders special glasses to show off its 3D capabilities. "It's now 82 inches, giving a fuller experience for home theaters," the Mitsubishi rep said.

Powermat USA also showed off several new wireless chargers for handheld computers that ranged in price from $39 to $149. Since the technology from the Israel-based company was launched in the U.S. two months ago, CEO Ran Poliakine said more than 750,000 units of wireless charging devices have been sold.

The first wireless chargers for the iPhone and BlackBerry have now been expanded to allow charging of devices from Nokia, Android, LG, and Motorola, he said. The newest products also include a wireless charging mat that will hold a three-day charge, useful for business travelers, he said.

Poliakine said a variety of Powermats for other devices such as netbooks will emerge later in 2010.

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