"Next Big Thing" Will be Mobile-Related, But Give it a Couple Years

Consumer-Electronics-Global-Overview-Growth-Trends-and-Analysis
Hot new mobile devices have been the big reason people have spent money on mobile services over the last several years, you might argue. For starters, it often is impossible to purchase a device without also buying other products, such as mobile data plans.

You can get a tablet and use Wi-Fi for connectivity, but in the U.S. market, for example, it is virtually impossible to buy a smart phone without an accompanying data plan. The caveat: you can buy a full price, "unlocked" smart phone, not from a service provider. But almost nobody does this.

With the Consumer Electronics Show now in full swing, you will not be able to avoid hearing about the "next big thing," or the "lack of the next big thing" coming out of CES. Sometimes the hype matches an eventual trend, and sometimes it does not, so be circumspect.

Among the devices of recent years to have been the "big thing" at CES are netbooks (up and down), 3D TVs (hasn't taken off), tablets (clear winner). But in decades past, there have been entire shows where nothing even that pronounced really has emerged. Some years, the industry itself looks only to refine an existing trend, because there is, in fact, no "hot" new product category.

To the extent you can say there is a "new category," it would be ultrabooks, the new "thin and light" notebook PCs that are supposed to compete with the Macbook Air. If you think about it, you can probably see the problem here. Most people do not buy the Macbook Air, when they buy a PC.

They mostly buy notebooks, it is true. But the Macbook is at the high end of the market, and most people do not buy products at the high end, in any market. So a reasonable person might argue that although ultrabooks are nice hardware, they will not create a big new market.

If pricing stays high, then few will be sold. If pricing drops, as virtually everybody expects, then ultrabooks will simply become the new form factor for many notebook PCs.

The other problem some might note is that with very few exceptions, hardware doesn't drive the market the way it used to. You can say the Apple iPhone did so, and you can argue the tablet does so. But PCs haven't created sizable new markets for some time. I'm not saying they are less useful, but it is an established category.

The other problem is that as most of a consumer's devices, and virtually all the portable devices, become multiple-purpose devices, more of the value has moved to software and communications. Some 48 percent of the respondents to a survey conducted by CTIA-The Wireless Association and conducted by Qualtrics say their mobiles have become their primary ways of using voice communications.

Also, when asked what they thought was the most important function of their mobile devices, 61 percent said the Internet; 42 percent said text messaging or instant messaging and 40 percent said voice. Smart phones are multi-function devices.

"You've got a computer in your pocket, you've got a computer in your briefcase, you've got a computer on your desk — and pretty soon you're going to have a computer in your TV — all running apps — and they're going to do most of what you want to do," says Selburn. "The problem is: How do you wrap up an app and put it under the tree at Christmas?" CES: No killer app?:

Some 48 percent of the respondents to a survey conducted by CTIA-The Wireless Association and conducted by Qualtrics say their mobiles have become their primary ways of using voice communications.

Also, when asked what they thought was the most important function of their mobile devices, 61 percent said the Internet; 42 percent said text messaging or instant messaging and  40 percent said voice.



It would be fair to note, with regard to CES or device trends in general, that we sometimes hit periods when there is no "hot new category." Tablets were the last clear winner. But that doesn't happen every year. Ultrabooks are interesting. But it is reasonable to ask whether they can create a whole new category, or simply change an existing category in some significant way.
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