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The bright side of the economic depression

Posted: 28 Jan 2009 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:CES 2009? electronics consumer? depression economic?

Schweber: Maybe doing less and a little more slowly will turn out to be a good thing, since it will allow new products to develop a stronger, more resilient, more tenacious root system.

We've all seen reports that the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) this year is smaller than last year in terms of floor space and attendance. We've also seen the results of an online survey from Forrester Research that many consumers are planning to spend less on consumer electronics in 2009.

Although I generally put little stock in these surveys about the future!owing to their basic methods, selection of respondents and other factors!there's no doubt consumers are having second thoughts about rushing out to buy the next hot item. Who can blame them? After all, in audio alone, the music industry pushed them from vinyl records to cassettes to CDs to MP3 files as the standard storage format in a relatively short time, while largely obliterating each predecessor along the way.

Never-ending waves of new tech
Why the caution? It's easy to blame the economy, and that is certainly a large part of the reason for consumer caution. But I think there's another factor as well: Consumers are overwhelmed by the never-ending waves of new products, changing standards and leap-frogging technologies they are expected to accept and deal with!and those waves are coming faster and higher.

Think about it: The analog TV standard, which is being phased out next month, has been in place and served us well for over 50 years, while the Edison-base light bulb is over 100 years old, as is the often-maligned QWERTY keyboard. Due to their longevity and acceptance, society has developed vibrant infrastructures for these standards, including installation, replacement and support functions.

But when new products and their enabling standards (whether actual or perceived) come too fast and furious, many consumers can't cope. Unlike product developers, people in the real world have other things to do besides figure out how to get it all working and keep it going.

The dilemma is that our industry has historically been driven by two mutually supportive forces: innovation via new products and 10 to 20 percent annual growth used to pay for the enormous R&D and fab capital costs. When the take-up capacity of the end users at the end of the pipeline can't handle the increasing flow, the industry thinks it's in big trouble.

There is no chance that companies will!for strategic reasons alone!slow down the new standard and product waves, since pushing more stuff out the door faster is in the industry's DNA.

The only way that the shift will occur is when product developers and vendors run low on the money it takes to make it happen. And maybe doing less and a little more slowly will turn out to be a good thing, since it will allow new products to develop a stronger, more resilient, more tenacious root system.

- Bill Schweber
Site Editor, Planet Analog

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