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The Direction of the Consumer Electronics Industry in 2021

March 9, 2021

After being boosted in 2020, the global consumer electronics (CE) industry has dramatically evolved. Development in the CE space in 2021 will be underpinned by the following meta-trends: 

  • COVID-19 and its global influence on our lifestyle;
  • Technological advances: robotics and progress in AR/VR, miniaturization of components, cheaper and more accurate elements, and increased connectivity;
  • Environmental concerns and a shift towards carbon neutrality.

The last two tendencies have been in the focus of our attention for a number of years, however COVID-19 is dramatically accelerating them. 

Let’s cut to the chase and have a look at these three critical trends that are predicted to set the pace for CE industry development in 2021.

Emerging Trends in the Consumer Electronics Sector

Trend No.1: The COVID-19 Effect

COVID-19 is not the first pandemic to plague humanity, but its toll on societies, global economies, and human lifestyle is unprecedented. In this time of accelerated digitalization, the pandemic is bringing about major changes in device ownership and usage.

Impact of the Pandemic on the Consumer Electronics Market

The pandemic factor has contributed to the following:

  • A wider use of consumer gadgets. People are pushed out of their normal routines and are quickly adopting new attitudes, habits, and behaviors. Most daily activities are happening online today, like distant work, Zoom fitness classes, and an all-virtual social life. With a presence-free living, we see surging demand for products such as televisions, wearables, and other telecommunication devices.
  • Novel forms of interaction with the world as a long-lasting trend. Social and physical distancing is becoming the new normal. Many habits will endure the pandemic and stay with us, including the way we use consumer electronics. Their diversity will continue to grow; gadgets are becoming more specific and are helping us adapt to the new reality.
  • Value-centric approach. The global economy experienced a 4,3% shrink in 2020. Millions of people were thrown into poverty or reported a serious reduction in income. In an economic recession, people consider a purchase as a long-term investment and want to know the value of what they are buying.

Add to this global safety and personal health concerns, and you will see how the pandemic will drive growth in certain types of consumer devices.

Digital Health & Safety Concerns

The pandemic gave a radical boost to the Healthcare IoT technologies used in the public health sector, but its influence on consumer gadgets is no less exemplary. At CES 2021, companies presented multiple projects aimed at health monitoring and personal safety. They can be divided into three main groups:

  • COVID-19 infection detection. The Israeli Nano Scent Lab presented their Scent Check which works as follows: a patient provides a nasal air sample using the patented nasal adapter. The sampling is discarded into a specially designed bag that connects to the NanoScent reader. This POS-like device converts the chemical composition of the samples into data inputs and displays a positive or negative result in less than 30 seconds. The solution is based on proprietary Machine Learning (ML) algorithms. The overall accuracy of the solutions is 85%. 
  • Monitoring. As demand for rapid lab-free COVID-19 testing has exponentially increased, a number of manufacturers showcased products enabling early detection. Their users detect an active infection, self-isolate, and seek medical care. For example, Abbot presented their BinaxNOW COVID-19. This test system works with a mobile app and provides a daily health passport for a user.
  • Protective accessories with added functionality. Of course, the pandemic has made a mask a new must-have accessory. While designers are working on making it part of their fashion collections, IoT companies and developers are enhancing this vital part of our new normal with additional functions. In addition to protecting a consumer against the infection, a smart face mask can:
     

We’re not done with the COVID-19 challenge. Portable health gadgets will be in high demand during the pandemic and change our attitude towards home health care in the future.

At-Home Devices & Optimization of Time Spent at Home

The coronavirus pandemic made us spend more time at home in the previous year than ever before. The situation won’t change much in 2021, until vaccination of larger parts of populations takes place. This has also affected the market.

Startups and entrepreneurs are exploring a huge sector of at-home gadgets and smart home technologies.

the-direction-of-the-consumer-electronics-industry-in-2021-diagram

A tendency to make every room smarter and more convenient results in digital solutions characterized by: 

  • Voice command. From smart home hubs to voice assistants, consumers are getting more used to voice-controlled devices. Manufacturers know that and are implementing the functionality into all types of gadgets. In response to this, LG presented their next gen model, the InstaView fridge that can open its door via voice command. This is also an example of no-touch door operation for a safer environment.
  • Faster speeds. The ColdSnap Machine serves out ice cream pods in less than 90 seconds exactly what customers want in an age when extra speed adds extra value. 
  • Gamification. This feature helps brands stand out from competitors and boosts customer loyalty and overall revenue. For example, the CareOS Themis smart mirror runs skin analysis and offers gamified hygiene solutions for all types of skin troubles.
  • Personal recommendations. Today, smart gadgets can advise on all sorts of things. The Toto company showcased a smart toilet at CES 2021 that provides health and nutrition recommendations.

The market for connected home appliances will continue to grow as devices get more task specific.

TV Extended Functionality & New Forms of Entertainment

2020 was, and 2021 remains, a year of numerous outside stressors. People are seeking new ways to escape from a brutal reality. As a result, one out of every four respondents in a recent survey named a high-tech home theater as the most desirable new feature for their homes.

  • Push from 4K to 8K. This year at CES, several exhibitors, including LG, Samsung, Sony, and TCL, demonstrated TV sets with 8K resolution. The improved image quality is possible due to more advanced image processors. So far, content for 8K TV sets is limited, but step by step, brands will upgrade their content, and 8K models will become more affordable.
  • AI algorithms for image and sound adjustments. The world’s leading manufacturers are creating TV sets with built-in AI functionality that determines how humans perceive images. Based on this, they adjust the picture for a more natural and realistic look.
  • Mini LED technology going mainstream. Now incorporated into mid-range TV sets, this technology provides maximum contrast and more control over brightness on screens of different sizes. Samsung’s new line, Neo QLED, features sets with numerous individual LED lights behind the screen. Their competitors, including TCL and Hisense, are also launching their new mini LED-empowered TV sets on the market.
  • Rollable televisions. The first model of a bendable TV set was presented by LG at CES 2021. The model is not commercially available yet; however, the manufacturer is planning to develop the technology and use it for making flexible smartphones as well.

Modern TV sets provide more options for leisure and entertainment  than ever. As their prices enter into more realistic price ranges, consumers’ watching and gaming changes will change, too. 

Trend No.2: Technological Advances

Before the global pandemic, the technology sector was developing at an unprecedented speed. COVID-19 massively accelerated the process like nothing else had before, and now we see: 

  • Increasing adoption of 5G. Millions of connections and data-intensive applications have a different level of power requirements. Manufacturers expect 5G to quickly become the global wireless standard and accelerate the shift toward connected consumer devices. So far, we see how new gadgets like the iPhone 12 models are already normalizing this network as the next step.
  • Development of the semiconductor industry. New powerful computer chips bring Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning to the next level. One example of this is the development of neuromorphic systems, which are based on flexible organic electronics and modeled on the human brain. The functioning of such systems is closer to human cognition than computer logic, so they can interpret context and act in a situation of uncertainty and contradiction. The technology is still under development and is expected to change the CE industry, since it paves the way for autonomous robots that act with minimal direction, wearable devices which can inform of any anomalies in a user’s health, and self-driving cars that react to any driving challenge in real time.  
  • Increasing penetration of Edge Computing. Empowered by the 5G network, computer processing will be moved from the cloud to the network edge. This will take some pressure from the network and enable instantaneous data processing and data-based action. This technology plays a vital role in autonomous vehicles, telehealth solutions, and devices with AR/VR functionality that process heavy visual data in real time.

To secure the first-mover advantage, CE manufacturers are exploring and investing in these emerging technologies to guarantee greater bandwidth, lower density, greater security, and increased speed.

Trend No.3: Environmental Issues

For the first time ever, countries appear to be united in their decision to address climate change, transition away from coal, and focus on green technologies; the EU is issuing $290 billion in ‘green bonds’, and the USA is planning to invest $2 trillion in clean energy. Consumer electronics manufacturers are responding to the sustainability concerns of investors. 

With this context, we can figure out the next big things in tech:

  • New types of batteries. Rechargeable lithium-ion (Li-ion) and lithium-polymer (Li-poly) batteries have already become dominant in consumer electronic products due to their light weight, safety, and good thermal stability. Their production, as well as recycling, is a booming business in China, South Korea, North America, and the EU.   
  • Carbon-capture, utilisation, and storage (CCUS) methods. Power generation is generally accompanied by carbon dioxide (CO₂) emission. The technologies which capture and store CO₂ are still costly, and therefore not widespread. Until recently, only modern industrial sites and oil and gas reservoirs could afford their deployment. However, we can see some experiments with the technology in the CE field. Scientists from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology have created a battery that removes carbon dioxide from the air (direct air capture). In the future, such adsorbers can be used in cars or other vehicles.
  • Electric vehicles (EVs). Shifting to EVs has long been discussed as a powerful way to tackle environmental challenges. In 2021, experts remain quite optimistic about their sales. While Tesla and Elon Musk are leading the way, other manufacturers of more affordable versions are garnering their share of attention: Electra Meccanica Vehicles Corp (SOLO), NIO Limited (NIO), and XPeng Motors (XPEV), for example.

The booming CE industry will continue to adapt to the new demands both from a growing number of eco-conscious consumers and upcoming pollution problems.

Making Consumer Electronics Trends Work for Your Business

If you are willing to get a share of the CE market, keep in mind the following aspects of CE that should play an important role in your decision-making:

  • Additional and brand new functionality. While saturation has reached major client industries, like the production of smartphones and laptops, users’ interest in new devices is steadily growing. Those that offer a new digital solution will get attention and future customers. 
  • Infrastructure as a priority. Consumers are paying more attention to devices connected with other gadgets they are actively using. That's why today a smart fridge is controlled by Siri, while an electric car and smart home management are interconnected with each other. However, lacking universal connectivity standards and missing interoperability in the IoT sphere creates additional troubles in this direction.
  • Adopting disruptive technologies. New semiconductors, 5G telecommunications equipment, and AI and ML tech advances add extra value and create high margin products.

When it comes to the latest trends in consumer electronics, there are a lot of forces at play — 5G networks, edge computing, new chips, and so on. To stay competitive, manufacturers need to carefully plan their investments and adopt the right mix of technology.

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