Let's turn our attention to the hot gadgets for 2012, especially since the holiday season and the Consumer Electronics Show is rapidly approaching.
The pickings are slim. Other than a few expectations—some obvious, some not—detailed on the following pages, analysts don't expect a lot of must have CE gadgets to burn up the Amazon sales rankings in 2012.
"I really don't see any CE gear becoming the next Beanie Baby or Tickle Me Elmo for 2011," said Jordan Sulburn, a principal analyst for consumer electronics at IHS iSuppli. "The CE industry goes through cycles of innovation, followed by optimization—better, bigger, faster and especially cheaper—and we're in the latter part of the cycle right now. Even 3-D has been widely available for well over a year now."
According to Selburn, the rapid growth of smart CE devices, including media tablets and smartphones, could mean fewer consumer electronics gadgets under the tree at Christmas time, as functions that previously demanded standalone devices get rolled up into tablets, smartphones, TVs and set top boxes.
Back in July, IHS put out a report stating that that rapidly growing sales of multifunction products like tablets and smartphones will contribute to sluggish sales for single-task devices like MP3 players and digital still cameras through at least 2015.
Of course, the rise in smartphones and tablets have contributed to other profound changes in the CE market, particularly the dominance of apps that users buy, download and use on the devices. "A lot of the new gadgets are going to be apps instead of something that you hold in your hand," Selburn said, noting that consumers might have a tough time sticking apps under the tree, though.
In a nutshell, the list of hot gadgets for 2012 will not be dissimilar to the list of hot gadgets for 2011. But as Selburn notes, in the CE optimization cycle, everything gets smaller, faster, better and less expensive.
Surprise! The hottest gadget in 2012 is likely to be the same as it was in 2011: media tablets, particularly Apple's iPad.
"Really, the only ultra-hot market this season is likely to be the tablets," Selburn said. "The ever-popular iPad is being joined by the Kindle Fire and the Nook Tablet."
Selburn said the Kindle Fire, sold by Amazon, and the Nook Tablet, sold by Barnes & Noble, won't match the mighty iPad in sales, either in dollar terms or by units. But the new entrants are likely to do quite well and will help to develop the media tablet segment overall, he said.
IHS projects that Apple will ship 44.2 million iPads in 2011, growing to 120.1 million in 2015. The firm expects iPads to account for 74 percent of tablets shipped in 2011, declining to 43.6 percent in 2015. IHS expects iPads to make up the majority of tablets shipped through 2013.
The Barnes & Noble Nook Tablet.
The smartphone's rise to dominance continues in 2011. IHS's latest forecast projects that smartphone shipments will increase from 294.3 million in 2010 to more than 1 billion in 2015. For 2012, the firm forecasts shipments of just over 600 million.
Much like the tablet market, Apple remains the leader in smartphones, at least in terms of profit and prestige. But unlike tablets, this market is at least competitive. According to market research firm Strategy Analytics, the iPhone's share of the smartphone market declined to 17 percent in the third quarter, down from more than 20 percent in the second quarter, though most of the decline was attributed to consumers waiting for the new iPhone rollout. Many expected Apple to roll out the iPhone 5 in early October, but the firm threw its fans a curveball,launching the iPhone 4S instead.
Still, compelling new handsets in 2012 from the likes of Samsung, Motorola, HTC and others could help to break Apple's stranglehold on the market.
Yeah, this one is a bit of a downer. The truth is, after tablets and smartphones, the hot gadgets for 2012 get a lot less hot, and less interesting.
But shipments of ultrabooks—the lightweight, low power clam shell PC concept pushed by Intel—are expected to grow at a brisk pace. IHS projects that shipments of ultrabooks will account for about 13 percent of all notebook PC shipments in 2012, up from just 2 percent in 2011. The trajectory continues impressively from there, according to the forecast, which predicts that ultrabooks will account for 43 percent of all global noteboook shipments by 2015.
PC OEMs including Acer and Asustek are now selling ultrabooks, and a number of others are on the way.
Bottom line: if that special someone already has the latest and greatest tablet and smartphone, then you might have to dig deep and resort to giving the gift of light and energy thrifty. But dig deep you will have to, because the price tags on ultrabooks are around $1,000. Maybe a nice sweater is a better choice.
Flat screen TVs
Yawn. There is an old adage among gadget geeks that says, loosely paraphrased, if your grandparents have one, it's not that cool. TVs are ubiquitous in the modern world. And still there is a lot of innovation in the space right now, including 3-D, connectivity, so called smart TVs and on and on. We are a long way from black and white sets that receive their signal via a pair of rabbit ears.
According to IHS, the National Football League season, which kicked off in September, boasted TV prices in the U.S. by 1.5 percent, reversing a two-month decline. The average price for a flat panel TV set—a category that includes liquid crystal display televisions and plasma displays—hit $1,153 in October, the highest level in 2011, according to the firm. IHS attributed the uptick largely to a 2 percent increase in the sales of 50-inch-and-larger flat-panel TVs, which helped compensate for price declines ranging from 0.5 percent to 2 percent in many smaller size groups, according to the firm.
But IHS said the "football effect" fails compensate for overall weak TV sales in the U.S. TV sales have been relatively sluggish this year, and TV makers are bracing for a sluggish holiday season in 2011, IHS said.
But Selburn notes that falling prices don't necessarily disqualify TVs from the hot list. In fact, by making TVs continually more attractive to consumers, declined prices may actually have the opposite effect. Right now it's possible to buy a brand new 60-inch LCD TV through normal retail channels such as Best Buy for less than $1,000, he said. "And that's not even a Black Friday special," Selburn said.
"There are two edges to the sword, of course," Selburn said. "While the plummeting prices mean a lot of TVs going out the door they also dampen the revenue generated by these boxes."
As for 3-D TV, despite a lack of content and generally low enthusiasm, sales are projected to skyrocket, albeit from a pretty low base. IHS projects that worldwide shipments of 3-D TVs will catapult by a whopping 463 percent to reach 23.4 million units in 2011 and grow by another 132 percent in 2012 to reach 54.2 million units. The firm expects global shipments of 3-D TVs to breach the 100 million unit mark in 2014.
Smart energy devices
Try explaining to your eight-year-old son that instead of that Xbox he has had his eye on, you got him a Wi-Fi enabled smart energy thermostat to help him minimize his energy consumption and carbon footprint. Alas, even the most idealistic young man is not necessarily interested in saving the world on Christmas morning.
Still, in what figures to be a down year for gadgetry, smart energy thermostats, like this one from Intwine Energy,qualify as hot (no pun intended).
According to Mareca Hatler, an analyst at smart energy technology market research firm ON World, revenue from home energy management equipment and associated services is projected ro rise from $355 million in 2010 to $2.7 billion by 2015.