Apple Deemed Most Important CE Company

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Apple, Sony, Microsoft, Samsung and Panasonic might be called the consumer electronics industry’s veritable Gang of Five, in terms of their importance to the business over the past 25 years.

According to TWICE’s online 25th Anniversary Readers’ Poll, that was the positioning of the top CE players, each selected for its overall contributions and influence on industry direction.

The poll collected votes of 424 respondents to TWICE’s survey – 46 percent (the overwhelming majority) identified themselves as CE retailers with more than 25 years of industry experience. Manufacturers were second among voters, at 17 percent, and consultants were third, at 11 percent. Those identifying with “other” profiles represented 13 percent.

While Apple’s taking the No. 1 position may not seem shocking in terms of recent contributions and overall strength of brand among consumers, the amount by which the company swayed CE industry insiders, and retailers in particular, could be.

Approximately 72 percent of TWICE readers (312 votes) chose Apple as the most important CE company, followed by Sony (a longtime front runner) at 60 percent; Microsoft (161) at 38 percent; Samsung (140) at 33 percent; and Panasonic (84) at 20 percent.

Apple, for much of its early history, butted heads with mainstream CE retailing as much as it worked in partnership with it. It took the iPod – a relatively new product over the last 25 years – to make a major dent on retail selling floors.

In fact, Sony virtually owned the personal stereo market beginning in the early 1980s.

Apple was also the company that delivered the Newton, which was considered a phenomenal bust in the personal digital assistant category that has been supplanted today by smartphones, including Apple’s huge hit – the iPhone.

Second-ranked Sony, meanwhile, was a kingpin atop most of the categories in which it participated during the time period, including, at times, TVs, camcorders, portable electronics and video game consoles, with the PlayStation and PlayStation2.

Microsoft, meanwhile, dominated the operating system space for the personal computing field and helped to push Apple back into more professional market spaces such as publishing, graphic arts, video production and photography, as Windows-powered PCs swept the consumer home and small office/ home office markets.

But Microsoft has had a harder time making an impact from a hardware standpoint, failing to overtake the iPod with the Zune, losing out in the DVR market with Ultimate TV, and never really gaining traction with its WebTV-connected TV browser.

While it clearly steers the PC market, Microsoft is leaving it to manufacturer partners to cash in on the hardware side, as it reaps the royalties on the software brains that get them to run.

Samsung has arguably had as much or more of an impact than anyone in the CE retailing industry over the last 10 years, with its massively aggressive worldwide advertising and promotional campaigns that helped the company claim the top position in TV market share for much of that time period.

As much as it has accomplished through marketing, Samsung has probably solidified its long-term standing in the TV category more through investments in core display technologies, including LCD and plasma flat-panel production.

Through those investments, Samsung has helped to not only carve out a foothold at the top of the U.S. TV market for its own brand, it is at the same time sharing in the revenue of many of its competitors by selling them the glass heart of today’s video displays.

The same can be said of No. 5 Panasonic, which is a major stakeholder in the plasma category through its acquisition of Plasmaco in 1996 and subsequent factory commitments that for periods allowed it to dominate the increasingly margin-thin flat-panel PDP category. Panasonic also has investments in LCD, and in categories outside of TV and video, including digital imaging, home and portable audio, and cordless telephony. It’s now making inroads in eco-friendly electronics, including home power creation and storage, electric automobile battery systems and powerefficient appliances.

DirecTV, at No. 6, might also seem a surprise pick for a retailer-heavy audience. The company pioneered small-dish direct-to-home TV technology, working with partners including Thomson, and created one of the nation’s most successful new digital entertainment products only a few years after the service was launched. The feat was accomplished working in tandem with CE retailer distribution and third-party hardware brands, which started off manufacturing the integrated receiver descrambler (IRDs) boxes required to receive and decode the DirecTV channels.

But in recent years the satellite provider has scaled back retail distribution to go with a mostly direct sales and installation system, similar to the cable challengers it originally sought to displace.

Samsung’s biggest rival, LG Electronics (ranked No. 7 with 12 percent of the vote), also is a strong player in the TV space, with key investments in both plasma and LCD panel production. Although its U.S. marketing and promotional initiatives were less aggressive than Samsung’s over the last 10 years, it has risen steadily in both the TV and cellphone categories to compete almost head to head with its South Korean challenger in some categories.


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