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OEM Report: Electronics
Wednesday | 20 February, 2013 | 4:28 pm

Smart machines

By Lauren Duensing

Whether they’re at home or on the move, consumers crave around-the-clock connectivity

February 2013 - Eighty-four percent of people worldwide are unable to go a single day without using their mobile device, according to Time Magazine’s Time Mobility Poll, which was conducted in cooperation with Qualcomm and appeared in the magazine’s Aug. 27, 2012 edition. The poll surveyed 5,000 people from the United States, the United Kingdom, China, India, South Korea, South Africa, Indonesia and Brazil about how mobile technology impacts their daily lives. It also found that two-thirds of people between the ages of 25 and 29 check their phones at least every half hour. 

Instead of filling their pockets with a range of devices—from e-readers to digital cameras and portable gaming systems—consumers are focusing on a small set of multifunction devices, according to the 2013 Accenture Consumer Electronics Products and Services Usage Report, which was based on a survey conducted in September and October 2012 of more than 11,000 consumers across 11 countries.

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According to the report, “From 2011 to 2012, ownership of tablets among those we surveyed doubled. Ownership of digital cameras, DVD players, DVRs, portable music devices, portable game devices, and health and fitness devices remained flat or declined. ... The contrast between ownership trends in multifunction and single-function devices is in some cases staggering. For example, smartphone ownership increased from 26 percent in 2009 to 58 percent in 2012, while ownership of digital photo cameras decreased from 77 percent in 2009 to 68 percent in 2012.”

Data from the Consumer Electronics Association, Arlington, Va., projects tablet computing will post double-digit growth in 2013, with unit sales of 116 million, up 45 percent from 2012. Laptop and notebook sales will continue to rise, and smartphones still are a primary revenue driver for the industry, with shipment revenues expected to surpass $37 billion in 2013, up from $33 billion in 2012.

“CEA’s forecast once again confirms that CE products play an increasingly indispensable role in consumers’ lives,” said Steve Koenig, CEA’s director of industry analysis, in a press release. “Consumer adoption of smartphones and tablets continues to expand briskly as mobile connected devices take center stage in today’s connected, digital lifestyle.”

mm-0213-electronics-image2As demand for smartphones and tablets grows, the amount of aluminum the market consumes increases. “One of the big areas we are seeing increased popularity for aluminum is in the smartphone/tablet/laptop market,” says Matt Meenan, director of communications for The Aluminum Association, Arlington, Va. “Apple moved back to aluminum with the iPhone 5, and there are currently rumors circulating that Nokia’s new flagship Windows 8 phone, the Lumia, will be made of aluminum to help lightweight the product. Aluminum hits a nice sweet spot for consumer electronics because it’s durable, lightweight and attractive. Another benefit is that using aluminum increases the value of recycling electronics. While consumer electronics remains a relatively small market segment in terms of actual volume, we are always pleased to put more aluminum in the hands of consumers.” 

Anytime, anywhere

As technologies evolve so do the words that describe them. Mash-ups such as infotainment and edutainment illustrate the increasingly blurred line between information and entertainment. Today’s content is personalized, and consumers want to be able to access their stored music, videos, Facebook and Twitter from anywhere. 

The Accenture study points out consumers are comfortable jumping back and forth between devices, depending on their location. “For example, while a majority of consumers use maps, listen to stored music and download new apps on their PCs, about half also do so on their mobile or smartphones. When it comes to watching shows and movies on demand, the use of the PC and TV are nearly tied: 53 percent use their PC while 56 percent use their TV. This flexibility to use any device is so important that half of consumers would consider paying extra to watch TV shows or movies on their computer.

“Furthermore, activities conducted on mobile devices that were once considered ‘emerging’ are becoming more mainstream,” the report continued. “Almost half of consumers already do or plan to make payments in stores using a mobile phone or tablet, and about one-third do or plan to control home audio/video and home security with their mobile device.”

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Historically, that type of connectivity “has been generally regarded as a high-end novelty in home devices, such as smart meters, thermostats, security cameras and TVs, rather than a feature for the mass market,” says Christopher Perdue, director, smart energy, J.D. Power & Associates. “However, this view is becoming outdated as we move to a future where connectivity is widespread and embedded in virtually all household devices. The smart home of the future is likely to contain a large number of connected devices and sensors all linked via a home area network and connected to service providers’ back-end systems and the Internet. Connected devices will range from ordinary household appliances to solar panels and electric vehicle charging infrastructure that both consume and generate power.”

There’s an in-car app for that

Heading out the door with coffee, keys and a purse or briefcase, drivers unlock the car, toss everything into the passenger or back seat, slide in behind the wheel and plug in their smartphone—all before starting the car. The Consumer Electronics Association forecasts the market for factory-installed tech features in cars will grow 11 percent in 2013 to $8.7 billion. Highlights from the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show included self-driving systems; voice-activated mobile location sharing, as well as voice-activated calls and text messaging; vehicle health reports, Internet radio, and Facebook and Twitter feeds. 

“Many of the new offerings center on connectivity, both in terms of vehicle to external sources (like people, services, cloud information and entertainment, emails, texts, Internet) and vehicle to infrastructure (like autonomous and semi-autonomous driving features, parking locators, tolls, traffic, warning and prevention safety features). These connectivity offerings are providing consumers with more and better information and enhancing the overall drive experience,” says Mike VanNieuwkuyk, executive director, global automotive, J.D. Power & Associates. 

mm-0213-electronics-image4In-dash interfaces are drawing design inspiration from tablet computers, albeit with larger icons on the display and buttons on the steering wheel so drivers can operate apps and make calls while keeping their eyes on the road. Chevrolet’s next-generation MyLink won a Best of CES award in the car tech category and has a smartphone-inspired, customizable interface, which includes icons for navigation, phone and music. According to a company press release, “It also represents Chevrolet’s first use of natural language voice recognition that allows customers to safely place calls, enter destinations, browse media, play music and control other functions simply by telling the vehicle what to do.”

At the 2013 International CES, both Ford and GM announced smartphone-like developer programs for their in-car software platforms, which will allow software developers to create apps that will enhance a driver’s in-car connectivity. 

“The Ford Developer Program marks a dramatic shift in how we will innovate new features and add value to our vehicles through the ownership period,” said Hau Thai-Tang, vice president of engineering, Ford Global Product Development, in a press release. “Opening the car to developers gives consumers a direct voice and hand in the creation of apps that can help our products remain relevant, up-to-date and valuable to our customers.”

“No longer is the consumer sequestered in a capsule, segregated from the outside world and limited to the choices that their entertainment system offers,” VanNieuwkuyk says. “Consumers now can find greater value in the time spent in their vehicles through more entertainment choices, the ability to stay informed, receive information on the surrounding area and incentives or coupons to visit local businesses. In essence, connectivity gives control to the consumer to use the time in-vehicle to best meet their preferences and needs.” MM


FASTER ACCESS

Tick, tick, tick. Downloading content or checking email when Wi-Fi is running painfully slow is an exercise in patience. However, at the 2013 International Consumer Electronics Show, Federal Communications Commission Chairman Julius Genachowski announced a government-wide effort to increase Wi-Fi speeds and alleviate congestion at major hubs, such as airports, convention centers and large conferences. The initiative also would increase speed and capacity for Wi-Fi in the home, where multiple users are often on the network at the same time, according to the FCC.

The goal is to free up more Gigabit Wi-Fi, which is ultra-high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi. The FCC will take the first steps next month to release up to 195 megahertz of spectrum in the 5 gigahertz band. This would be the largest block of unlicensed spectrum to be made available for expansion of Wi-Fi since 2003. 

“CEA enthusiastically applauds Chairman Genachowski and the FCC for committing to free up spectrum, expediting ultra-high-speed, high-capacity Wi-Fi in support of the U.S. innovation economy,” said Gary Shapiro, CEA president and CEO, in a statement. “Today’s announcement by the FCC will enable higher data speeds and greater capacity—including improved HD video distribution capability—and will help every consumer with a Wi-Fi-enabled device, whether traveling, attending events like the International CES or simply connecting to home networks.”

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