Smartphones, tablets boost sales of consumer electronics

Americans have officially gone mobile.

Sales of smartphones, already in more than half of U.S. homes, and tablet computers, in one-third of homes, are expected to drive annual consumer electronics sales to $206.5 billion this year — the first time above the $200 billion mark.

Overall consumer electronic sales will grow 5.9% this year, the Consumer Electronics Association said in a report to be released Tuesday. That's up from the group's estimate earlier this year of 3.7% growth from 2011.

"These devices are the catalysts, the new means of interacting, that are really changing our relationship with technology," says Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis for the CEA.

Sales of smartphones are expected to top 108 million, a 24% increase over 2011, and amount to $33.7 billion in revenue, the CEA estimates. Tablet sales will more than double to 68.5 million, up 115% from 2011, and account for $29.2 billion in sales, an 83% increase from 2011.

Combined, smartphones and tablets are expected to account for 30% of all electronics revenue this year.

The CEA's estimates echo recent data from Nielsen that finds smartphone ownership rising to 54.9% of mobile phone users and that of research firm eMarketer's projections that 90 million Americans will use tablets by 2014.

Sellouts of Google's new Nexus 7 tablet, brought to market last week, are the latest sign of consumer interest in new mobile devices. "We have got the three heavyweights — Apple, Google and Microsoft — all in play this year," Koenig says.

While most traditional gadgets and home audio categories are trending downward, sales of one-piece sound bar speakers have become a sales bright spot. Consumers looking for a more immersive sound experience to accompany flat-panel displays are expected to drive sales of sound bars up 30% this year to $314 million.

As TVs get thinner, there's no room for built-in speakers. One-piece speaker bars "will be front and center" for years to come, Koenig says.

Another highlight: technology in autos. Spending on gadgetry included in vehicles is expected to account for $7.9 billion in revenue, up 25%, the CEA estimates. "It is pretty much ubiquitous across all makes and increasingly available on all models," Koenig says. "It's being driven by safety and by consumer demand to bring in content and music."


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