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Looking Back, Looking Ahead

While everyone makes a big deal about New Year’s Day, by the 4th of July, many of us look back at the past half year to see what we learned and look ahead, with hope, toward the next six months. At least we should.
In that spirit, I have to say that it has been a mixed bag for CE in 2011, as the economy slogs along, waiting for Congress to come up with federal budget cuts, tax hikes or both before the debt ceiling is raised by the August deadline.
And it will be raised. Political posturing aside, Washington knows that whether you are for or against tax hikes or specific budget cuts, you have to stop the bleeding before you can begin healing the patient – the U.S. economy. (I think they know that, but the people making the decisions are the politicians – and the special interests that guide them.)
In CE, demand, hype and buzz have all centered on tablet PCs and smartphones, with the former set to hit the second half with a massive crescendo of product introductions and unit sales.
Demand is still off for TVs. 3DTV and Internet features may still make a difference this year and down the road, but it hasn’t happened yet. Prices and margins are down. The only real bright spot has been demand for plasma TVs.
Many top Japanese manufacturers had to overcome the tragic earthquake and tsunami in March, worried not only about their facilities but their workers and their families. Major product shortages that were feared stemming from the disaster have not happened, at least not yet.
On top of that, Sony has also had deal with the hacking of its websites, which has hurt its image, its stock price and continues to be a PR nightmare.
At retail, Amazon has become the CE force many predicted it would a decade ago (see our special report on p. 20), making even No. 1 Best Buy and No. 2 Walmart look over their shoulders and take notice.
And I haven’t even mentioned Apple yet. The juggernaut continues, with the company keeping a commanding share in tablets even if hordes of manufacturers enter the market. But pundits have pinned a big question mark on Apple: How is the health of founder/CEO Steve Jobs? And how will his health affect Apple? Those answers, along with many others, will come in the next six months and down the road.

TWICE Celebrates 25 Years
Speaking of the looking back and looking ahead, TWICE will celebrate its 25th anniversary with a special issue on Aug. 8.
In this special issue we will publish the results of an online readership study telling us what you think were the most influential manufacturers, product categories and retailers in the past 25 years.
We will also report on what you thought were the most significant developments in the CE industry during the past quarter century and what products you can’t live without.
And there will be a special report on the future of CE in the issue. Some top industry execs and analysts will guess how the industry will change in the next five years.
That will be a tough story to do since the present changes so quickly in this business; you always feel like you are living in the future.
Or as one of my favorite philosophers – Yogi Berra – once said about dealing with fast-approaching autumn sunlight and shadows in the old Yankee Stadium outfield when the World Series was played in the daytime, “It gets late early out here.”