Notes from CES

February 1, 2009 OpenSystems Media

I’m still decompressing from the heady atmosphere of the 2009 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) and sorting through the USB sticks filled with press releases, brochures, and flyers I picked up during my trek through the 1.7 million net square feet of exhibit space (thank you, Santa, for those new walking shoes). This year’s show was all about social networking and being green, two areas of focus that correspond with the four key trends the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA, www.ce.org) identified for 2009:

  1. Green as a purchase factor: Materials and packaging, energy efficiency, and recycling programs
  2. Evolving command, control, and display: Touch screens, voice activation, motion sensing, and 3D displays
  3. (No) strings attached: Cutting cords, attaching services, and shifting usage locations
  4. The embedded Internet: Localization, utilities and services, and communication and commerce

We’ll delve into these trends in upcoming issues of Embedded Computing Design.

The CEA also reported that the consumer electronics industry continued to grow 5.4 percent in 2008 despite the economic downturn. Although the trade organization forecasts domestic revenue to stay essentially flat in 2009, it expects global consumer electronics revenue to grow by 4.3 percent. The CEA predicts that unit shipments (2.5 billion consumer electronics products in 2009) will increase at an even higher rate, with consumers refusing to give up their gadgets but putting a tighter squeeze on prices. This year promises to be challenging as manufacturers reduce costs to stay ahead of flat or diminished revenue streams. At the same time, if unit shipments increase as forecasted, manufacturers will need to meet the demand for extreme cost efficiency.

Given these cost constraints, how will manufacturers turn a profit in 2009? During his pre-event keynote address at CES, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer asserted that the companies and industries that continue to pursue innovation in these tough economic times will achieve a significant competitive advantage, positioning themselves for growth far more effectively than companies that pull back. He announced the beta availability of Windows 7 and pointed out the new features that enhance the social networking aspects offered in the newest release of the company’s operating system. Windows 7 reinforces Microsoft’s continued emphasis on communication and information technology.

Some of the technologies I track closely at CES made significant progress in 2008. For example, OLED technology, which enables paper-thin flexible displays, was still in the labs in 2007 but actually made it into production last year. Several suppliers, including Sony, showed off their OLED display lines.

LED lighting has also come a long way. There are now legitimate LED bulbs with life expectancies of 50,000-plus hours that can replace your 60 W incandescent bulbs for good. They are still very expensive at nearly $120 per bulb, but that will change by next year. Even at these prices and life cycles, you’ll still come out ahead in the cost game. The variety of LED light options has likewise increased substantially as developers have gotten their hands on color temperatures that match the warm light we are familiar with in our homes. I’m still waiting for someone to develop home external lighting that lets me control the colors from my computer so I can leave my decorative lights up all year.

Considering that Blu-ray was declared the winner at the close of the 2008 show, it came as no surprise that this year’s exhibit was full of inexpensive Blu-ray players. The next question is when players with recording capability will hit the market. Though digital rights management is still restricting this as a player option, I’m sure things will have changed by the time the next show rolls around.

Two consortia at CES generated news of interest to the embedded community. The SD Association (www.sdcard.org) announced SDXC, the next generation of removable memory with up to 2 TB of storage and 300 MBps read/write speeds. This makes it possible for your mobile devices to become your media center. Photo buffs and memory-intensive applications will love SDXC. The roadmap shows these goals being achievable in the not-too-distant future.

Meanwhile, the USB Implementers Forum (www.usb.org) provided demonstrations of USB 3.0 or SuperSpeed USB, which was announced in November. The new standard will make this ubiquitous technology even more vital in future devices.

Feel free to e-mail or visit our blog at www.embedded-computing.com to add your comments on all the CES buzz.

Jerry Gipper, Editorial Director

jgipper@opensystemsmedia.com

Jerry Gipper (Editorial Director)
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