CES draws global tech giants to Vegas
CES draws global technology giants to Las Vegas
By Kim Yoo-chul
LAS VEGAS ― The world's most influential technology exhibition has kicked off but this time the International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) is expected to see mixed responses.
Almost all the major players on the planet including Korean duo Samsung Electronics and LG Electronics, Japan’s Panasonic and Sony, leading Chinese device makers, software companies such as Microsoft and component firms including Qualcomm and Intel are all set for the show.
Hynix Semiconductor chief executive Kwon Oh-chul will be there to check the industry’s new trends and identify additional chances to expand its chip-related businesses. The chipmaker is supplying memory chips to Apple, Dell and Hewlett-Packard.
Despite expectations of more companies and attendees, analysts and market officials are saying that no single device or technology has emerged to define the show.
Show host the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) is doing everything that it can to help the annual exhibition sustain the current bullish mode. This year, it has hired Hollywood actress Eliza Dushku to serve as promotional ambassador for the exhibition, which runs through Friday.
``We’ve acknowledged problems and worries concerning the fair. However, CES is still the `must-go to’ exhibition to catch up with industry trends every year and understand the business strategies of our rival companies,’’ said a spokesman from Samsung Electronics, Monday, at the Las Vegas Convention Center (LVCC), the exhibition’s main venue.
This year’s event will feature ultra-thin laptops, top-of-the-line smartphones and enhanced thinner televisions, according to CEA officials.
Operating systems (OS) are also a key area amid the rapid rise of smart devices with the U.S.-based software giant Google unveiling the so-called ``Google TV’’ helped by hardware partners, including Samsung and LG.
Google’s latest mobile OS, the Ice Cream Sandwich 4.0, and Microsoft’s strategic items that run on its brand-new Windows 8 software are the other main themes this year.
``There’s going to be a focus on connectivity and mobility that continue the momentum we’ve seen for the past few years, even though we may not see quite so many big announcements by carriers as we did last year,’’ said Ross Rubin, an executive director from retail research firm NPD.
Samsung and LG are planning to use the trade fair as an ``ideal springboard’’ to expand their presence in the key North American market by releasing hardware-upgraded digital devices.
The Korean participants are displaying ultra-thin televisions adopting organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. They have already presented their respective 55-inch OLED TVs with glasses-free 3D technology.
OLED TVs have brighter, more natural images but have the disadvantage of being rather pricey.
LG Electronics said it is going to start the sale of its 55-inch OLED TVs from the second half of this year but they will cost more than $5,000.
Samsung has rented the biggest space at the electronics extravaganza with its booth taking up 2,602 square meters.
The world’s top manufacturer of televisions, smartphones, flat screens and memory chips exhibited its first 75-inch TV with Internet connectivity, while it is displaying PCs, high-end mirrorless cameras, monitors and 4G long-term evolution-enabled tablets and smartphones, according to the company.
``We cautiously predict that this year will be better than the last one in terms of consumer spending and that’s why Samsung has come to the show with more products and also with our top executives,’’ said a company spokesman.
Samsung Electronics Chairman Lee Kun-hee will make an appearance with his children, Hotel Shilla President Lee Boo-jin, Cheil Industries senior executive vice president Lee Seo-hyun and Samsung Electronics Chief Operating Officer (COO) Lee Jay-yong.
The firm’s chief executive Choi Gee-sung and heads of its key divisions and affiliates, including Samsung SDI will also be present.
LG is more prepared for this year’s show from a year ago. It’s displaying numerous large-sized brighter TVs with ultra-high definition viewing quality.
Its much-awaited first Google TV will be displayed at the company’s booth. Chances are very low that LG Electronics chief executive Koo Bon-joon will meet Korean reporters or even foreign media during his time at the show.
But Koo will hold various internal meetings with company executives at the Bellagio Hotel with the aim to help identify business breakthroughs, according to LG officials.
Last year was ``truly dismal’’ for LG both in terms of revenue and profit as its smartphones continued to be bearish with its television business being hit by the aftermaths of the debt crisis in the eurozone and slow consumer spending in the United States.
Sony also features an OLED display for its Playstation Vita, while Panasonic has a new OLED-screen mobile phone at the exhibition.
``Tablets have taken a backseat after sweeping the tech fair last year. While 3D is also a main theme for the exhibition, the frenzy is not as fierce as it was last year,’’ said a CEA official.
New DNA, turning point
But talk is focusing on whether the CES itself has a long-term future, according to market analysts and officials.
The trade fair is adding new sectors as CEA has installed a separate sector for automakers. ``Lines between consumer electronics and cars are blurring as cars need to incorporate advanced technologies, giving more business opportunities to tech firms,’’ said an official from Ford Motors.
Ford’s Alan Mulally and Daimler’s Dieter Zetsche are in town for a series of business meetings.
``CES is evolving thanks to the participation of car majors,’’ said an unnamed official, adding that the trade fair is experiencing a ``major turning point’’ since its debut.
Analysts seem to think that the ``next big thing’’ will remain elusive. Leading mobile carriers including Verizon, Motorola Mobility and T-Mobile have scaled back their presence, opting to skip press conferences or even completely pass on the opulent booths they’ve had for years.
For Steve Ballmer, the chief executive of Microsoft, this year’s CES is his last appearance because his company will not return after this year, meaning the software firm prefers to unveil and announce its new products on its own schedule.
The CES, which was unveiled in New York in 1967, was the launch pad for the VCR, camcorder, DVD and many other pivotal home technology developments. It has grown rapidly in importance after the COMDEX trade fair folded a decade ago.
``It’s true that the annual show is kind of stressful because we need to display striking and wholly-new products to meet with higher expectations. However, we should continue participating for the time being. We will review the situation when we get stronger in software. We already have products,’’ said a Samsung executive at its booth, asking not to be identified.
This year’s CES could be the second-biggest on record, with more than 2,700 exhibitors taking up over 1.8 million square feet of show floor. The largest-ever CES was in 2008, with 1.85 million square feet of paid exhibition space.
The CEA expects 140,000 to 150,000 people to attend with organizers agreeing that it will be tough to beat last year’s 149,000.
``Companies will start making their reservations for space next year, even as the show is underway, or shortly thereafter. Therefore, CES will soon find out if it is losing luster or if it is just the hard economic times. But LG Electronics will definitely come back, as will Samsung,’’ said a top-ranking LG executive.