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CEA Economist Talks Holiday Sales, New Industrial Revolution

New York — Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) chief economist and senior research director Shawn DuBravac offered a guardedly optimistic preview of this year’s holiday shopping season for technology products at the CES Unveiled New York event, here.

Forecasting a 2.6 percent rise in holiday tech spending this year, DuBravac pointed to connected devices as the engine driving tech sales, and identified TVs, tablets and smartphones as being at the top of surveyed holiday shoppers gift wish lists.

DuBravac called this holiday season “the earliest starting holiday promotional period we’ve ever seen,” with some retailers, such as h.h.gregg, advertising Black Friday deals in October. Discussing how shoppers are increasingly savvy in their hunt for a good deal, he reported that 50 percent of surveyed consumers plan to use their mobile device to help them shop for tech gifts.

Looking past the holidays, DuBravac identified some key trends in the technology market that CEA predicts will drive stronger sales next year and beyond. (Indeed, later in the event, CEA CEO Gary Shapiro predicted a robust growth of 4.5 percent in CE sales in 2014, to $211.7 billion.)

DuBravac gave a short history lesson on the two main industrial revolutions that the first world’s economy has been built by, and proceeded to declare that 2013 is the beginning of the third revolution, one that begins with the trend of mass customization. “From sneakers to cellphones to 3D printing, we have now entered an age where consumers can design their own products down to the smallest detail,” he said, “and these custom products are mass produced and mass delivered seamlessly. It is a new age of choice.”

Citing innovation as a key motivator of consumers, DuBravac pointed out the diversity of mobile devices on the market now as opposed to just four years ago. “In 2009, I identified a gap in the screen spectrum. At the time there were plenty of smartphones with screens from 1 inch to 5 inches. Then there was a gap until you got to 15-inch laptops and on up to 65-inch big-screen TVs. Now, a short four years later, tablets have filled that screen gap and screens are now truly ubiquitous. We have a device for every screen size in multiple forms and resolutions. That is a truly nimble market.”

Looking ahead, DuBravac identified a new age of autonomy driven by the growing preponderance of sensors in devices. “As these sensors, gyroscopes and accelerometers went from being scarce to being abundant, we have deployed them widely, and as a result, we are beginning to solve complex problems.” He referenced early examples in the auto industry such as active lane assist and parking assist features, leading to the age of driverless cars.

Coupled with the rise in sensors is a parallel rise in “a radio for every range,” said DuBravac. “A wide choice of wireless data transfer technologies connects all those sensors in all those devices leading to the connected home, the rise of lifestyle electronics — the Internet of everything.

Summing up, DuBravac sees the dawn of a “service meets systems” tech economy, in which the smartphone or tablet is the main interface to an ecosphere of technology products all talking to each other. “Right now Netflix can give you film recommendations based on your previous choices. I see a day soon when Netflix can make suggestions based on what the weather is like outside your house, or how hungry or tired you are. We are coming to that day when everything is Internet addressable.”