2015 began with talk of Ultra 4K TVs, drones, the Internet of Things (IoT) and high-resolution audio, and the year ended much the same way. But, as always in the consumer electronics industry, there were a few surprises along the way.
One of them was that the industry’s leading trade group cut that phrase from its name last month to become the Consumer Technology Association. CTA said the new name better defines the products, services and industries it represents. Its show, the 2015 International CES, was not surprising: another record was set with almost 177,000 in attendance. However CTA also cut down the name of its show starting next month to CES 2016, since “CES” has become such an iconic international brand.
So, as we all get ready for CES and the new year, here is my list of the top 10 stories of 2015 that involve the people, companies and technologies that make up this business:
10 Joe Clayton Retires: A guy who sold RCA color TVs when the brand was a company and the market leader in the U.S., also introduced what is now DirecTV, became CEO/chairman of SiriusXM Radio, and eventually became president/CEO of Dish Network. You would never think Clayton would retire but he did, from Dish in March. One of the great promoters of technology, his brands and the industry Clayton will be missed by all – especially media members. You could always count on Joe for straight and entertaining commentary on the industry.
9 RadioShack’s Chapter 11 & Sears is No. 2: RadioShack filed for bankruptcy protection this year yet returned with new owner Standard General and Sprint departments providing plenty of inventory by Black Friday. Sears, the longtime number one major appliance retailer in TWICE’s Major Appliance Report remained at No. 2, replaced by Lowe’s. Neither story was a surprise but an indication of changing times.
8 Windows 10 Debuts: Yawn. At least from this reporter. If you installed it on existing Windows-based hardware, you dealt with it or you complained bitterly online about the foul-ups. Sales are reportedly OK, but no one was saying that Windows 10 was a game-changer by the fourth quarter.
7 Hisense Buys Sharp’s TV Biz: As foreign CE makers took over U.S. CE brands a generation or two ago, Hisense USA has acquired Sharp’s North and South American TV business. The deal officially goes into effect during CES 2016. As with similar transactions like this over the years, which technologies will be used, and how the brands will be differentiated and distributed, should hopefully be explained in Vegas next month.
6Drones, Drones, Drones: Whether you are talking about tests of retail delivery of products from Amazon or Walmart, or robust consumer sales, drones made headlines during 2015. Incidents involving drones and aircraft also created a stir and demands that the FAA clamp down on the technology. When Q4 retail sales are finalized we will find out how popular drones are. And by 2016 we will see how close we are to retail deliveries via drone and if drone use will be restricted by the government.
5 Buying Groups Get Connected: As the new year dawned, we knew about the management changes of leading buying groups. But the scope of the operational changes that occurred — partnerships with fellow groups – were eye-openers. In addition the groups, who represent independent electronics/appliance dealers and installers of all stripes, embraced the connected home concept even closer, as well as the Internet of Things, two categories that should grow dramatically next year.
4 Apple Watch Debuts and Sold: Well, we don’t know how many units have been sold nationally or internationally because management back in Cupertino have not yet deigned to give us an estimate. Two million? Six million? Twelve million? Those are but three guesses. But the usual Apple hype has not only helped its Watch sales, it has built interest in the wearables category in general, which boosts all brands.
3Black Friday, Black November, Black Whatever: In a recent blog this reporter said that 2015 may be the year that Black Friday “jumped the shark.” For instance, Black Friday deals for some retailers started a week or more prior to the actual day; the Black Thanksgiving trend got pulled back by some retailers, emphasized by others; Cyber Monday and online sales on Thanksgiving weekend seemed to have set records. What retailers haven’t figured out yet is how to solve the usual early December lull before the rush to buy before Christmas.
2 Best Buy’s Branded Departments Build Momentum: Hubert Joly, chairman/CEO embraced the branded department strategy a couple of years ago, which built momentum, created a better customer experience in its stores and boosted U.S. sales this year. Along with streamlining operations, double-digit online sales gains and being price-competitive all increased the chain’s bottom line performance so far this year.
1 Ultra 4K TVs Go Mainstream: Even though there is still a lack of 4K programming available and Ultra HD Blu-ray won’t debut until next year, Ultra HD 4K TVs are being embraced by consumers as the main TV in the home. Ultra 4K TVs are driving consumers to brick-and-mortar stores to see all the pretty pictures. And, as with all advances in CE technology, there is in Q4 a wider variety of brands, feature options and lower prices for consumers to choose from.
Steve Smith is editor at large of TWICE and was its longtime editor in chief.