iPod-Docking Speaker Systems On The Rise

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LAS VEGAS —

Sales of iPod/-iPhone docking speaker systems held up well in 2010 and will only get better in 2011, suppliers said, thanks to an improving economy, rising demand for iPad-docking speaker systems, and the rise of multi-iPod households.

Demand in general for active tabletop speakers systems, iPod-docking or not, will also get a lift from the growing availability of powered tabletop speaker systems that connect wirelessly to Bluetooth sources and, via Wi-Fi, to AirPlay-enabled PCs and to Apple’s handheld devices, suppliers also said.

Here at International CES, dealers will find new wireless-connected speaker systems as well as iPodand iPad-docking speaker systems.

Companies launching their first iPad speakers systems include Audiovox’s RCA and Acoustics Research brands, Haier and iLive. For its part, Alco is launching RCA-brand three-piece music systems with iPad docks. The iPad systems join the models recently launched by Altec Lansing, Bang & Olufsen, Speaker- Craft, Spectra’s Jensen brand and iHome.

Conventioneers will also find a growing selection of iPad speaker systems with rotating dock to display iPads in portrait or landscape mode. They’re from Audiovox’s Acoustic Research brand Haier, and iLive, joining a model from Alec Lansing.

High-end one-piece iPod/iPhone speaker systems, priced up to $599 from Philips and $399 from Edifier, will also appear, joining current $599 models from SpeakerCraft, Bowers & Wilkins and Bose, and B&O’s $999 iPad-docking model.

New tabletop speaker systems that lack docks but stream wireless music sources include a Bluetooth speaker system from Altec Lansing and an iHome system with Apple AirPlay technology to stream music via Wi-Fi from a PC’s iTunes application and from iPhones, iPads and iPod Touches via a home’s Wi-Fi network.

While the Christmas selling season was still in high gear, Altec Lansing president Vicki Marion forecast that 2010’s docking-speaker sales would end “with mid-single-digit gains in unit sales and low positive revenue based on modest ASP declines.” Although unit sales of iPods “have modestly declined, more households are multiple-device owners than ever, making the need and desire for docking stations still strong,” she said. “As this trend continues, we expect 2011 to be an even better year as the slow march back to economic health continues.”

Kirk Lamb, sales and marketing VP, Spectra Merchandising, also forecast stepped-up docking-speaker sales in 2011. “The docking category has certainly matured, but it remains healthy, and I actually believe that sales in the category will be more robust in 2011 than in 2010,” he said. In addition, he said, “with so many iPads in consumers’ hands, it’s a certainty that we will see an increase in demand for docking speaker systems.”

iPad-docking products “that allow for a comfortable and easy interactive experience with the iPad should prove to be winners in this emerging category,” he noted, given that “recent studies have shown that consumers are mostly using their iPads for surfing the web, doing email and also playing games.”

With such use cases in mind, Spectra and iLive have introduced iPaddocking speakers that enable the iPad screen to tilt back for easy video viewing. In the case of a new Haier model, the iPad screen tilts all the way back to accommodate typing on the iPad’s virtual keypad.

Bluetooth and AirPlay will also boost sales of active tabletop speaker systems, suppliers said. “We will also see more wireless speakers that connect via Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and proprietary wireless methods, some that support Apple’s new AirPlay initiative and/ or DLNA and other networking methods,” said Altec’s Marion. “Consumers clearly like the idea of moving their content around. Bluetooth in general will grow in importance both as a follow-me feature as well as allowing touchscreen devices to remain “in hand” where they are usually wanted.”

The rise of these products, however, shouldn’t have a major impact on docking-speaker sales, she said. “Consumers need a ‘home’ for their devices to charge and to comfortably view video, which suggests the continued need for good docking platforms.” As a result, she continued, “we anticipate some category overlap as some devices will be more network- centric than iPod- or dockingcentric, while others may focus on Bluetooth for more universality with the emerging tablet and smartphone products almost universally deploying Bluetooth.”

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