US Prepares for New Age of Consumer Electronics Companies Change Focus from Business Customer to Mass Market

Article excerpt

IS it time the United States got back into consumer electronics?

Consumer electronics? What about the Asian juggernaut that conquered the US market a decade ago?

Despite that, several American technology authorities say, "Yes."

For example, Gordon Bell, a longtime research director at Digital Equipment Corporation and now an author and consultant, says, "It's a good point to get back in. The world is going digital."

"In my opinion, there's a very good chance that the US could be a dominant player in the new age of consumer electronics," says George Fisher, chairman of Motorola Inc.

The reason for the newfound optimism? Computer and communications technology - traditional American strengths - are transforming the consumer electronics industry. This week's Consumer Electronics Show in Chicago is a case in point.

"What you found 10 years ago {at the show} was ... audio and video equipment," says Cynthia Upson, a spokeswoman for the Electronic Industries Association. Today, computer companies, telecommunications giants, and software houses are sporting their wares at the annual event.

"There are a lot of mature markets that I'm not sure an American company would take a look at," she says. "But there are growth areas that do represent great opportunities for American companies."

Apple Computer Inc., for example, is formally introducing its new personal communicator, the Newton, during the Consumer Electronics Show. Hewlett-Packard Company is showing its new OmniBook 300.

Personal communicators - a blend of portable computing and wireless telecommunications - are a natural market opportunity that US companies can exploit, analysts agree. But to be successful, computer and telecommunications companies will have to make the transition from business customers to consumers.

"It's a big change from being a high-tech business-oriented company to one that is selling like Sharp does," says Paris Burstyn, vice president of telecommunications research at Business Research Group in Newton, Mass. Japanese competitors like Sharp Electronics excel at selling high-volume, low-margin gadgets. …