Consumer Electronics Show Goes On Amid Downturn

Expo hits: From Tracy-like watch that takes calls to wireless video uploads.

January 08, 2009, 12:32 PM

LAS VEGAS, Jan. 8, 2009— -- A wristwatch that doubles as a cell phone. A wireless way to charge cell phones. A small, flexible TV screen as thin as a sheet of plastic.

On the official opening day of the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, these are a few of the gadgets that are already sending gearheads into geek heaven, despite the expected 10 percent drop in expo attendance.

For the next four days, anybody who wants to be somebody in consumer electronics, from name-brand manufacturers to unknown start-ups, will stake out their spots on the Las Vegas strip to show off their latest and greatest at the world's largest technology show.

With their celebrities in tow, the big guys are sure to make a splash. Data storage company SanDisk has tapped recording artist Akon to lend some star power to its presentation, Sharp Electronics has recruited the New York Yankees' Joba Chamberlain to promote its latest wares and Alex Trebek of "Jeopardy" fame will host a series of games from the convention to push Sony's latest screens.

But smaller companies too, such as broadband phone start-up Ooma and location-based services company Loopt, are here in hopes that, like LG Electronics and others before them, this show will shoot them from relative obscurity to mainstream success.

LG came to Las Vegas years back as a mostly unknown "Lucky Goldstar." Largely because of the show, experts say, LG is now a major contender in the consumer electronics world, this year introducing a sleek wristwatch cell phone.

Already receiving a ton of buzz, the new DC 910 will launch globally later in 2009.

Using bluetooth technology, the wristwatch can display who's calling and text messages. You can either speak directly into the phone or use a bluetooth headset. It also includes a built-in camera for video-conferencing.

"You're beyond James Bond, you're better than Dick Tracy," Martin Valdez, senior product trainer for LG, told

In total, the Consumer Electronics Association says 2,700 exhibitors, down from 3,000 last year, have registered. The overall number of attendees is also estimated to be slightly lower -- about 130,000 this year, instead of last year's record 141,000.

Hands down, analysts attribute the smaller numbers to the recession. But the show goes on.

Although the recession has left an imprint on the show, analysts say the show is still a shrine to innovation and cutting-edge technology.

Updates Dominate This Year

"This thing goes in cycles," said Greg Harper, a co-founder of Gadgetoff and a speaker at this year's show.

Some years boast new, innovative products; other years showcase updates. This is one of those years in which improvements and updates dominate, he said.

Polaroid, for instance, introduced a digital camera that prints photos right away, like the old favorite, but it also creates a digital version of the picture that's sharable with friends via e-mail.

There's also the Eye-Fi video card that allows users to wirelessly upload videos and share them in real time, over the Internet. Eye-Fi won Yahoo's "Last Gadget Standing" award last year. Its updated version tops the list of Yahoo's finalists for 2009.

Harper said "green" and energy-efficient products are big this year -- as are thin screens, such as organic LED screens, 3-D technology, automotive technology and home entertainment systems.

Fuji, for example, is showing an EnviroMax alkaline battery that is recyclable and mercury-, cadmium- and PVC-free.

A recyclable battery might not sound like much until you consider the more than 10 million batteries that Fuji says are thrown away each year.

Other companies offer rechargeable batteries but, Fuji spokesman Jeff Kreidenweis said, this recyclable battery is more in line with consumer habits.

"From cradle to grave," from partners, production and packaging, he said, the product reflects eco-friendly practices. It will start shipping on Feb. 1

Rob Enderle, a principle analyst for the Enderle Group, said, "There's less focus on the huge TVs this time around and more focus on the stuff that's quite a bit more affordable."

He agreed that a spotlight is on green technology and energy efficiency, as a number of products on display provide a lot more with a lot less power or don't pull energy when they're switched off.

And despite the tough economy, analysts predict that consumer electronics sales will grow this year, going from $694 billion in 2008 to $724 billion in 2009.

ABC News' technology reporter Becky Worley contributed to this story.

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