Wednesday, January 16, 2008

CES Hype Ignores Emerging-market Innovations

The dust is still settling in Las Vegas after 140,000 techies gathered for the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES) last week. A hotbed of trends, gadgets and futuristic predictions, CES hints at the year’s soon-to-be hottest products and establishes solid predictions for the direction of the industry. This year’s show, responding to increasing media attention, attempted to shine a spotlight on solutions designed for developing countries. With industry representatives from the One Laptop per Child initiative, Qualcomm, Voxiva, AMD, Intel, Microsoft, and Cisco, CES hosted “Technology and Emerging Countries: Advancing Development through Technology Investments.” Even with the emerging-market star power of some of the world’s largest companies, coverage of the session was noticeably absent from CES press reports.

The absence of media attention on technology solutions for developing countries is not surprising. CES, traditionally, has been focused on the bells and whistles of the technology industry. The demand for sexy gadgets and flashy form factors keeps announcements comfortably far from reality and, as a result, only a fraction of the technology gizmos demonstrated make it to market. Successful emerging-market solutions are less often about flashy technology and more about shifts in business models to address day-to-day user needs. While new business models for and investments in emerging markets are not of particular interest to CES bloggers, they continue to be of interest to Wall Street.

Strategic investments that drive growth and true innovation in developing-country markets may be overlooked in the coverage of this year’s CES, but IT analysts are responding to them favorably. IBM, for instance, was rewarded by investors this week when their earnings report showed continued strong growth in emerging markets, making up for a slowing tech spending in the US. For companies just getting into the emerging-market game, there is still time to generate near-term revenues through smart investments. But newcomers are advised to ignore the tech-show drama of “devices in search of a market”, and balance technology innovation with business models and internal restructuring that will enable emerging-market growth.

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