Pixel Perfect Gifts
The $206 billion US consumer electronics industry is on the rise, according to Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the 2,000+ member Consumer Electronics Association, the preeminent trade association promoting the growth of the domestic consumer electronics business.
Shapiro’s announcement, part of the holiday sales forecast made during the 2012 CEA Industry Forum held in San Francisco, hosting over 300 of the industry’s top contenders, came amidst a further forecast on the technologies to watch. The fav-five list includes 3D printing, next-generation TVs and displays, audio equipment, mobile tech in Africa and technology in education. All of the above are likely to take center stage this January, during the Consumer Electronics Show. Billed as “The Global Stage for Innovation,” the show is owned and produced by CEA.
For retailers, the 2012 holiday shopping season delivers a blessed 32-days of shopping between Black Friday and Christmas. Add to that a few extra weekend days and the arrival of Hanukkah 11 days earlier this year. Foot traffic is expected to climb 3.3 percent this season resulting in a 2.8 percent bump in sales.
Aside from the anticipated stimulation of reduced prices, the good news for consumers and possibly retailers (depending on how you look at it) is that traffic on the electronics aisle is expected to take an 8 percent dive this year, according to ShopperTrak. The Chicago-based company that analyzes foot traffic as well as sales at leading malls, also predicts an estimated 1.5 percent rise in sales. The organization cites the increase in online purchases as the proximate cause.
The silver lining also tallies up to a boost for the package delivery business. FedEx expects to handle 280 million shipments between Thanksgiving and Christmas, up 13 percent from the same stretch last year. The world’s second-largest package delivery company projects Dec. 10 to be its busiest day, with an expected 19 million packages to move through its network – a 10 percent increase over 2011.
Charged Up, Big Picture Guys
So what’s brightening the eyes of consumers so far this season?
“I use my iPhone more than my laptop,” explains Wade Eyerly, an aviation and defense industry expert, who along with brother David, founded Surf Air, a private air service for business and personal travelers. “There just isn’t much I need to do that I can’t do on my iPhone: Make calls, answer e-mails, review documents, electronically sign contracts, and on and on.” All of which takes a toll on the phone’s battery life.
As a result, Eyerly goes through three charges a day, which he claims is no fault of the iPhone. To the rescue, he relies on a $79.95 Mophie Juice Pack Air (mophie.com). Available in various colors, the thin case was made specifically to house the iPhone 4 and now 5, providing more power on the go.
Eyerly has also considered a Wilson Electronics Mobile Cell Phone Booster (wilsonelectronics.com). Designed for use in your car, truck, RV, or boat, he believes it significantly improves cell phone’s performance and signal strength while supporting multiple cell phones and data cards simultaneously for fewer dropped calls, faster data rates, and clearer reception.
Four Seasons Hotel Atlanta’s general manager, Dan Normandin stays charged and in charge with The Powerbag (mypowerbag.com). Normandin says the backpack allows him to remain stress free, while keeping his iPhone 4S and iPad 3 charged on the go and connected with his team at the hotel. Equipped with a complete charging system, including Apple connector, micro- and mini-USB connectors and an on-board USB port, the Powerbag – available in briefcase, messenger bag and backpack styles – is ready to charge up to 4 devices at once anywhere, anytime.
For Dr. Patrick Washington, a cardiology physician extender at Atlanta’s Piedmont Heart Institute, his “dime-sized” high resolution Panasonic mini portable projector might be the best thing since sliced bread. “It connects to my iPhone to project an 80 by 24 inch visual image when I’m on the go.” Washington, a man who remains on the go, made the discovery aboard a Delta flight, ordering the item straight from the airline’s in-flight magazine.
After stints and appearances at New York City’s The James Beard House, Food Network’s Iron Chef America, and FOX’s Hell’s Kitchen where in season eight he was awarded a perfect score by Michelin Star award winning chefs, appropriately-named Chef Russell Kook recently landed in Atlanta at LPC (La Pietra Cucina). In addition to his love of all things Epicurean, his trusty MacBook Pro, iPhone and electronic rice cooker light up his world.
“I am obsessed with my new Japanese electronic rice cooker,” he explains. “It is by Zojirushi. It’s the best! I can cook rice 6 different ways and keep it warm.” As for his Apple gear, “it’s the ease of use. They work so great together...I can take notes on either and they automatically sync…no forgetfulness or lost thoughts here.”
And every global traveler is likely to benefit from Dean Foster’s Culture Guide app for iPhones and Androids. Available at iTunes for $9.99, the app covers everything from a country overview and greetings, to how to behave when invited to a private home and gift-giving etiquette.
In their respective categories, the stars of the electronics world this holiday season are plentiful.
Flat Panel Televisions
LG’s super thin, super bright, 55-inch OLED TV weighs 16.5 pounds and shows off in 3D when you’re wearing the brand’s 3D glasses. But it just got trumped. On sale now, Sony’s $24,999, 84-inch, 4K resolution LED TV (XBR-84X900) with a chart topping 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution and integrated speakers. Sony claims it provides the most immersive picture and sound experience available for home theater.
Bottom-line news at Samsung: The $10,000, 75-inch, 3D, ES9000 Smart TV is turning lots of heads. With much anticipation over the demand for large TVs in mind, their TV division saw record-setting sales this past October to the tune of 1.15 million sets sold in the US. Looks like the brand is well on its way to its seventh global best-seller title in a row. With the apparent intent to unleash an altogether new and vibrant package of changes at CES 2013, Samsung is positioning its brand to perform with the same caché as the international giant, Apple.
The 10-inch Apple iPad, now with a faster processor, faster WiFi capabilities and Retina display, is the dominant player on the field of tablets. In the second quarter of this year the $499 to $699 iPad accounted for 70 percent of all tablet sales, according to HIS iSuppli Market Intelligence.
Google and Amazon.com Inc (where 15 of the top 20 top selling electronics items are Kindle readers) have made substantial efforts to gain leverage on the field with the introduction of smaller, seven-inch screen tablets at lower prices. In response, Apple recently introduced the 7.9-inch iPad Mini at $329, which in comparison to the Kindle Fire (starting at $159 at Amazon.com) and Google’s $199 Nexus 7, is still at a premium. Add to Apple’s perceived premium quality its premium features, including a version of the iPad Mini which offers the ability to access cellular networks at AT&T, Verizon and Sprint, starting at $459 for the mini and $629 for the full-sized option. So if you’re looking to remain cutting edge with fewer gadgets in tow, there’s your solution.
Now available in 7-inch ($199) and 9-inch ($269) models, Barnes and Noble’s Nook HD tablets are now lighter and include video purchase and rental service. Even Toys R Us is in the game, with its 7-inch Taebo tablet for children, priced at $149.99. The release of Windows 8 for computers and tablets has even opened the door to Surface, Microsoft’s $499 10.6-inch tablet.
Apple’s long awaited plunge into the world of 4G via the iPhone 5 has resulted in a larger, thinner, faster phone with longer battery life that is expected to make electronics sales history. Apple’s leading rival and courtroom antagonist Samsung, who debuted the Galaxy S III well before the iPhone 5, boasts a still larger screen at 4.8 diagonal inches. Their newest smartphone arrival, the Galaxy Note II, even tops that at 5.5 inches. With it, you have to be willing to use a stylus.
As Samsung and Apple dominate the $219.1 billion smartphone industry, Blackberry refuses to call it quits. It’s new Bold 9900 is favored for a list of likeables including overall body, the comfort of the keys, faster browser speeds. It boasts NFC technology for easy sharing of information, pictures, contacts and more between BlackBerry devices with just a tap, and a standard micro-USB cables for charging – unlike iPhones that require the additional purchase of an adapter.
At $49 Music Gateway allows users to stream music from a BlackBerry (or any Bluetooth enabled phone or tablet) to the stereo in your rental car or portable speakers. BlackBerry offers its customers a complimentary travel app that organizes travel details through an automatic trip scanning feature that searches e-mails to retrieve flight, hotel and rental car information into the app for centralized viewing. But the big news for the brand is the 2013 debut of its new platform, the BlackBerry 10. For more information visit blackberry.com.
With integrated Bluetooth now a feature on most smartphones, a Bluetooth headset is a must-have when you’re on the go and away from Bluetooth in the car. Headsets can be very temperamental in their performance. Many in fact tend to draw ambient noise into the microphone, which can be a nightmare if you’re on the receiving end of the call. The solution is the simply exceptional sound quality of the $129 Aliph Jawbone Era.
Now available in 13- and 15-inch screens, Apple’s MacBook Pro with Retina are the first and second highest notebook resolution screens ever produced. With over 4-million pixels on the 13-inch screen (starting at $1,699) and the over 5-million on the 15-inch model (starting at $2,199), Apple’s Retina screens have set a whole new precedent for details, texture and sharpness.
HP’s slim, sleek and chic Envy 14 Spectre, is attempting to dance with Apple with the introduction of the first glass lid, glass display and glass palmrest ultrabook. The $1,400, 14-inch laptop touts the ability to transfer Web site links from a nearby phone to the browser on the laptop using near field communication (NFC).
If less is more, consider Apples MacBook Air. Starting at $999 for the 11.6 LED backlit glossy display, it weighs just 2.38 pounds. All in all, PC sales made little noise last year as smartphones and tablets took center stage. But with the coming of the ultrabooks, 2012 is holding on to some promise.
— Michael André Adams
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