Consumers lead the way

Today's consumer toys can be tomorrow's business tools, argues Mark Sutton.

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By  Mark Sutton Published  August 16, 2007

By now, anyone working in IT in the Middle East can't have failed to notice that this year's Gitex exhibition follows a different format to previous years. This time, Gitex has been separated into three separate sections - including a dedicated exhibition for consumer electronics.

The market for consumer electronics has expanded steadily in the region, particularly in the Gulf, where higher disposable incomes and a busy market in re-export and duty free shopping built the businesses of most of the big name local retail chains. Today though, that market is expanding exponentially, with new retailers emerging and making a bid for regional market share, and many of the global big name vendors seeing the value of increasing their local operations. Given that the Middle East consumer electronics market is now estimated to be worth $7 billion annually, this comes as no surprise.

What might be a surprise to some however, is the decision to position a consumer electronics section within Gitex, which is more usually associated with high end IT business. The creation of Gitex Shopper several years ago resulted in a highly successful retail souk to accompany Gitex - sales were estimated at $23 million last year - but the creation of a Consumer Electronics show should not be regarded as just another platform to market products to the general public - the consumer electronics market is essential for the industry as a whole.

Obviously many big name vendors operate in all sections of the market, and Consumer Electronics will help them to distinguish their product offerings from their main business lines, but the relevance is more fundamental than that.

Widescreen display technology is a good example - aside from stock market traders and a few other intensive users, multiple monitors for one user have never really been an option for most businesses, despite improvement in productivity that being able to access several applications at once can offer. But as the uptake of widescreen single panel LCD screens has grown among consumers, so the price of wide format panels has come down. Now businesses can afford widescreen monitors for many different users, giving them more virtual desktop space to work with, and helping them to.

High-end graphics are another area where the consumer market helps to drive technology development. Without the legions of gamers who gobble up high end graphics chips, graphics processing technology would be nowhere near where it is today. No affordable high-end graphics capabilities would mean processor intensive, intuitive graphical interfaces like in Windows Vista would not be within reach of the average PC user. Even functions as simple as a preview thumbnail of a folder's contents would be a drain on the CPU.

Even at the level of games consoles, there are lessons to be learnt for all of us who are involved in business IT. Nintendo, once written off as an also ran in the console wars, is enjoying massive success with its Wii games machine. Sales of the Wii are now estimated to have equalled those of Microsoft's Xbox 360, despite the Xbox having been launched more than a year before. One reason for its success? The Wii's innovative motion detection controller is bringing in a huge new market of gamers who are thrilled at being able to interact with the games in a more natural and lifelike way.

The technology that today is enabling games of golf in the living room, could tomorrow be adding an extra interactive dimension to the roadwarrior's Powerpoint presentation, or creating a virtual model for a virtual team of engineers working on a project. From high bandwidth network gaming and virtual realities, to social networking and file sharing to pervasive always-on mobile technology, consumers and enthusiasts are creating their own ways of working in the digital world, and helping to take new technologies into the mainstream - there are lessons to be learnt from Consumer Elecctronics.

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