Big screen romance

This month’s Consumer Electronics Show showcased the public’s continuing love affair with the latest devices. But along with popularity go responsibilities and global realities, says Gary Shapiro.

The Consumer Electronics Show represents the world’s hope for its finest future — a future of products that change people’s lives, bring them joy, teach them skills and keep them connected.

This hallowed event brings the newest, most exciting technologies and people together. And if CES is doing well, it must mean our industry is innovating and giving consumers more choice.

No company can stand still. To survive, firms must make it better, quicker or cheaper. Consumers want innovation. They want great products at reasonable prices which meet their needs.

Bumper year

In 2005 they certainly got them! The US went flat screen and digital. From digital television (DTV) to digital cameras, from MP3 players to satellite and HD radio, from in-car entertainment units to the best in high-performance audio, the consumer electronics industry continues to be a hit with consumers around the world. Indeed, new CEA sales forecasts issued this week show that this electronics romance will drive total US sales of CE products to reach more than $135bn (£76bn) in 2006.

Our industry is changing the world. The average American home now owns 25 consumer electronics products and the rest of the world is not far behind. We are connecting people and making distance irrelevant. We are enhancing lives, health and education. We are creating tools to power the imagination.

But to continue down the road of innovation, shared knowledge, enhanced experiences and improved health care, we must recognise certain realities and advocate them strongly and effectively. I suggest we follow a few principles that will get us to the better world technology can provide.

Firstly, we must preserve and protect the environment. The world’s resources are limited but digital technology allows us to preserve our environment for future generations.

Think of all the paper saved by e-mail or the petrol saved by telecommuting and online buying. We must embrace policies favouring home offices, telework and teleconferencing.

We must make clear how much energy our products use so consumers can make informed purchases. And we must establish a recycling programme with shared responsibility among consumers, retailers and manufacturers. At the same time we will oppose mandates that restrict innovation or artificially limit product usability and features. We must all work together to protect the environment while promoting innovation and creativity.

We must also promote free trade. Our industry is global and we rely on open international systems. We prosper because we are the global leader in new innovations, creativity and hard work. Maintaining our leadership means resisting the urge of isolationism, tearing down the walls of protectionism, and welcoming and attracting the best and brightest from around the world.

Consumers are also demanding that technologies they enjoy in the living room also work in the mobile environment. We must ensure that car manufacturers provide after-market installers with the information they need to install products in today’s sophisticated, computer-controlled cars.

Also, we must work with the car industry to ensure consumers can make the choices they need and want for a standardised interface. We are encouraged by the progress on the standardised car interface, the MOST standard, and hope it will be finished soon. We will not stop insisting on safe practices and laws, such as those that discourage the installation of video screens to allow a driver to watch movies while the car is in motion.

Joint endeavour

We are together sharing an important moment in history. It is a moment of tremendous change, phenomenal promise and tough choices. Technology gives immense power, but its very presence by definition forces change in almost every other related industry. We must work together to ensure that our destiny of a better world through technology is not artificially compromised to preserve old business models.

Edited extracts of a keynote speech given by Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA) at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas.