"The mobile industry is witnessing a stupendous growth on both fronts - metros and major towns, as well as from new markets in Circle C and Circle B States.".

Janani Krishnaswamy

Players in the Consumer Technology space appear unfazed by slowdown.

Recession or no, companies in the consumer technology space appear to be going ahead with R&D and new product launches. eWorld talked to the players for more on their plans. Here's a snapshot of the action:

More flat panels coming

If there is one market that seems unaffected by recession, it is the flat panel display segment. Samsung and LG are betting big on this space this year. LG India plans to launch 35 models of LCDs, eyeing a 33 per cent market share by year end.

Talking to eWorld, Amitabh Tiwari of LG says the company plans to launch LED and OLED display options in the next couple of months. "OLED should be here by end of 2009." Commenting on prices, he says, "LED-backlit displays might be 1.6 times the cost of present generation LCDs, whereas OLEDs might cost 2.1 times the price of an LCD." As part of its marketing strategy, LG attempted to prove that the In-Plane Switching technology has the advantage of a touch screen. When it was compared against an existing VA panel (of its competitor), the display remained stable after our touching the screen, while we observed that the latter offered an image of lightning when tested for the same.

Samsung will also be launching ultra-thin LEDs in the next couple of months. An array of Blu-ray products displayed at the Consumer Electronics Show at Las Vegas will mark its presence in India by late October.

Hitachi will soon be coming out with its LED-based Ultra Thin LCD televisions in India. "The product is targeted at high networth individuals (HNIs) and will be launched around August 2009," says Tarun Jain, Country Head-India, Hitachi Home Electronics. Hitachi expects the Indian market to maintain robust growth. The company will be investing in new distribution channels to reach out to its high-end consumers.

"To bolster our revenues we are also evaluating widening our product portfolio with high-end personal care gadgets and video cameras in the Indian market," adds Jain. Hitachi, as a group, spends 4.5 per cent of its turnover on R&D.

However, for Philips India, the LCD business doesn't sound too profitable at the moment. "We have moved from `TV and the wall' to `health and wellbeing'," says Mahesh Krishnan, Consumer-Lifestyle Head, Philips India. Hinting about Cinema 21:9, he says Philips is working on something that will offer the `real cinema' experience. Philips will be focusing on four dimensions as of now - my body (healthcare and home appliances), my appearance (personal care), my mind (audio products) and my space (ambilight, ambisound products).

Asked about recession marketing, Krishnan retorts, "it's not a recession for India, just a slowdown." He says Philips India has currently diverted its investments towards the retail chains.

Phone makers upbeat

Though consumer spending is on a downward spiral, phone makers are still banking on the Indian markets.

A recent Reuters poll suggests that mobile phone sales will shrink this year at the fastest pace ever as consumers cut spending. But begging to differ is Edward Wang - Business Head, Mobile Communication Business, ASUS India, who says "owing to the economic slowdown, consumers might curb their spending on gadgets. However, with the advent of 3G in India, we have a completely untapped potential to look at." With many handsets already being 3G-ready, consumers have the advantage of fast network connections and faster download speeds. "ASUS will be launching another feature-packed PDA in the Indian market," he says.

Samsung has already invested heavily in the touchscreen segment and expects a 45 per cent market share. LG will create a tenfold increase in the volume of Windows phones in 2009 and bring upto 26 new such phones in 2012 alone.

Anil Arora, Business Group Marketing Head, Mobile Communication, LG India, says, "the mobile industry is witnessing a stupendous growth on both fronts - metros and major towns, as well as from new markets in Circle C and Circle B States."

Nokia will soon be launching its flagship N97 in the Indian markets. HTC is not lagging in the race either. The second generation HTC Touch Diamond and Pro, announced at the Mobile World Congress, will soon hit international markets, and eventually find their way here. Sources say the first version of Google Android - HTC G1 - is also expected to hit stands by year end.

Ajay Sharma, Country Head, HTC India, says the global economic slowdown hasn't affected sales to any significant level in India. "In fact, our highest priced model in India, the HTC Touch HD, was launched in January 2009 at Rs 41,990 and it has raked in impressive numbers so far, exceeding our own expectations. However, maintaining the same momentum and quarter-on-quarter growth is proving a challenge ."

Analysts, meanwhile, feel the worldwide smartphone market recovery will not happen anytime before 2010.

Netbook cushion to PC industry

A Gartner analysis reveals that the PC industry will experience its sharpest unit decline in history - an 11.9 per cent decline from 2008. Both emerging and mature markets are forecast to suffer unprecedented slowdowns. And global spending on computing products will likely decline nearly 4 per cent this year. However, mini-notebooks (also called netbooks) are expected to cushion the overall PC market slowdown. Mini-notebooks are forecast to represent 8 per cent of PC shipments in 2009. According to IDC, the global netbook category is estimated to be 8.1 million units this year.

Lenovo India recently launched its range of slimmest entertainment PCs in India. Despite the fact that the desktop market has been facing a downward trend (IDC quarterly PC tracker reveals that, for CY 2008, desktop PC shipments dropped 10.1 per cent), Lenovo India has launched the IdeaCentre A600. "This is one of the slimmest all-in-one desktop PCs," says Ramprasad L, Vice-President, Transactional Consumer Sales, Lenovo India. Unlike other all-in-one products, the A600 enables motion sensor gaming, VoIP calling, and also allows remote access to its media centre.

ASUS India sold about 30,000 netbooks last year and expects to sell about two to three lakh units this year. Stanley Wu, Country Head - Notebooks and Eee PC, ASUS India, says there has been a fall in the sale of traditional desktops. ASUS has been strengthening its Eee PC category and recently launched the Eee PC 1000HE with the new Intel Atom N 280.

Stanley Wu says India is one of the fastest growing PC markets in the world. "This year we have applied a lean inventory system to reduce costs," he adds. ASUS spends about 1.12 per cent of its total investment on R&D.

Sensing the confusion in the minds of consumers on whether to invest in a notebook or a netbook, HP India has launched the dv2 entertainment notebook, which, it claims, offers the best of both worlds. "The dv2 provides productivity and rich entertainment capability while measuring just under 1-inch thick and weighs less than 1.7 kg," says Diptesh Ghosh, Category Head, Consumer notebooks, HP PSG. Available at Rs 37,490, the dv2 is the most-affordable ultra-portable that qualifies for a new category, between notebooks and netbooks, claims HP.

Gartner expects PC hardware to see the sharpest drop, nearly 15 per cent compared to a 2.8 per cent increase last year. However, Logitech maintains that its PC peripherals division and iPod docks have been an instant hit and continue to fare well even in times of slowdown in the Indian market.

"Any product with appropriate price-value ratio is still preferred by consumers. Same is the case with Harmony 525 universal remote control, doing consistently well in the value segment," says Subrotah Biswas, Country Manager, India & SAARC, Logitech.

Brighter picture awaits digicams

According to IDC, India is one of the world's largest growing markets for digital cameras. And despite the slowdown, the first quarter of 2009 ended on a good note for Canon India, which grew by 19 per cent from Q1 of last year. Does that mean Canon is unaffected? "No. There has been impact," says Alok Bharadwaj, Senior Vice-President, Canon India. "We might have grown by 35-40 per cent, if not for the slowdown."

He captures the impact thus: "the personal tech market has been very marginally affected, the small businesses not so badly, the government business better off, but the businesses of big corporate have been affected to a larger extent"

Canon has opted for a two-fold approach to tackle the current economic slowdown, through costs and impact. "We have been trying to stay as close as possible with our customers during times like these. We have been cutting down on travel, marketing and advertising spends too, however we don't intend tampering with our R&D spends," he adds.Elaborating on how R&D is critical to any organisation, Bharadwaj says Canon plants to capture the segment by continuing the momentum of introducing new products and more path-breaking technologies. "We plan to launch 50 new consumer products and 25 business products by end of 2009." (It includes the 23 new cameras and camcorders Canon India announced recently). Samsung and Sony recently updated their digital camera market line-ups for the Indian market and will continue to introduce newer technologies in the months to come. Sources reveal that Panasonic will also announce a new digital interchangeable lens camera system - the Lumix G Micro System - in the Indian markets.janani@thehindu.co.in

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(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated April 20, 2009)
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