Hisense and Haier steal show in Las Vegas electronics exhibition

Consumer electronics show dominated by brands such as Hisense and Haier, signalling that its smartphones and smart TVs might soon be must-have items here.

Exhibitors and industry affiliates gather around to watch a demonstration of a Whee robotic massager at the Consumer Electronics Show, Wednesday, Jan. 9, 2013, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/Julie Jacobson)

This year's Consumer Electronics (CES) Show, held this month in Las Vegas, was dominated by the presence of a new generation of Chinese manufacturers.

New lines of Chinese IT and IT-related consumer devices, such as smartphones and smart TVs, will soon be flooding regions outside the United States, with the Middle East high on the list.

"For consumers in the UAE this will mean becoming acquainted with new brands such as Hisense and Haier," says Bob O'Donnell, a vice president at the international research firm IDC.

According to Mr O'Donnell: "You had to just walk through the showroom to fully comprehend the scale of influx of Chinese manufacturers. The first thing you see is a huge stand for TCL. Hisense also has a huge stand and do other Chinese manufacturers."

The new breed of Chinese manufacturers are now producing smart TVs, Blu-ray players, personal computers, laptops, smartphones and other consumer items at a far cheaper price than other companies. Chinese-made devices effectively dominated what was the largest show in CES's 45-year history, with 3,250 exhibitors showcasing about 20,000 new products to 150,000 attendees from more than 170 countries.

"The Chinese are now doing what the Japanese and Koreans did before them and undercutting western prices," says Mr O'Donnell.

Previous CES shows have been dominated by big US firms such as Microsoft, now largely noticeable for their relatively low profile or complete absence.

CES 2012, for example, was overshadowed by Apple's new product unveiling, which generally takes place early in the year. But this year, the Chinese have stolen even the mighty Apple's thunder, suggesting consumers may finally becoming weary of the industry's best-known brand.

"It was largely a Chinese vendor show … There was no Apple shadow whatsoever at the show I could find, typically even though Apple isn't there, they hang like a dark cloud over the show. That didn't happen this year," says Rob Enderle, the principal analyst at research company the Enderle Group.

Instead, the show was flooded with low-cost rivals to Apple's treasured line of computers and smartphones.

"Of the Chinese vendors Lenovo, Hisense and Huawei stood out. Lenovo owned the PC segment … Hisense took over Microsoft's premier space across from Intel and had the best overall placement of the Chinese vendors, and Huawei pulled the most interest in their phone lines, only Samsung was stronger," says Mr Enderle.

Hisense in particular used CES to broadcast to the world that it intends to eat the top western manufacturers' lunch. It used dance performers to draw conference attendees to view its 110-inch TV, claimed to be the largest in the world, together with other models using 3D technology.

Another Chinese brand, Haier, also showcased smart TVs that have gesture control and face recognition features. China's TCL also unveiled its super-thin Blade TV together with a smart TV that can identify the face of the viewer to recommend specific content.

Smartphone makers such as Huawei and ZTE are increasingly starting to target foreign markets and were in evidence at the US show. But there were also rumblings at CES 2013 that the Chinese may have backed outdated technologies, and the industry is looking for innovation elsewhere.

According to Nick Dillon, an analyst at the international research company Ovum, the focus of innovation has now shifted away from the kind of hardware showcased at CES towards the software and services running on the devices. Consumers are increasingly judging new devices not merely on their design and functionality but also on the number of software applications they can access.

Mr Dillion believes that the hardware market has reached a level where it is unlikely to improve significantly. The software market, however, is mushrooming. According to Ovum, 40 billion software applications have been downloaded from Apple's App store.

Mr Dillon believes that this emphasis on software application will also extend to other devices such as thermostats and wearable fitness trackers. Several IT companies unveiled wearable fitness tracking devices at CES 2013, including Fitbit, Fitbug, Withings and BodyMedia.

The car industry is also focusing on incorporating IT software applications into its products. These use the latest consumer electronics technology to offer drivers features such as in-car entertainment and internet-based communications.

But the software hurdle for the Chinese may not be as high as Apple, with its proprietorial strategy, would wish. The Korean consumer electronics giant Samsung, for example, uses Google's Android operating system to power its smartphones, which are currently outselling Apple's smartphones.

The Chinese phone maker ZTE is also using Android, an open operating system that is also now freely available to other Chinese electronics manufacturers wanting to offer western customers a wide range of software applications.

Consumers in the UAE can therefore expect 2013 to be the year when a new generation of Chinese brands start to seriously undercut established consumer electronics manufacturers.