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Fri 1 Dec 2006 12:00 AM

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Worlds colliding

The 2006 instalment of the Middle East’s largest IT exhibition, GITEX Dubai, featured an expanded presence of consumer electronics vendors keen to tap the growing market for convergence products. Aaron Greenwood reports.

The growing synergies between the IT and consumer electronics industries were clearly evident at GITEX Dubai 2006, with industry giants Panasonic, Sharp and Sony sharing hall space at the Dubai International Convention and Exhibition Centre (DICEC) with the likes of HP, Symantec and Epson.

Indeed, Sony boasted the largest physical presence of any exhibitor at GITEX 2006, with a showcase consisting entirely of consumer electronics products.

The closest the Japanese industry giant came to displaying a traditional IT showcase was its Vaio notebook collection, which is nonetheless primarily designed with consumers in mind.

The bevy of LCD and plasma screens that faced off at every corner of GITEX 2006 said much for how far the boundaries between the IT and consumer electronics industries have been ceded in recent years.

Yet, a certain sense of unease remained among the more cynical GITEX delegates, who questioned the merits of promoting what they perceived as the somewhat tenuous links between the two industry sectors in a bid to boost GITEX’s appeal beyond its humble IT origins.

Regardless, if success is measured by sheer visitor numbers, the strategy paid off for GITEX organisers Dubai World Trade Centre (DWTC), which claimed 130,000 delegates attended this year’s event, marking a 10% increase on GITEX 2005.

DWTC attributed the rise in visitors to the debut of GITEX’s new telecommunications cousin, GULFCOMMS, which drew impressive crowds over the course of the five-day event.

The two events combined occupied 13 halls and more than 62,000 square metres (33% more than last year) of floor space in the DICEC.

In addition, DWTC reported that 1,347 exhibitors (up 16% on GITEX 2005) participated at the event from 76 countries (up 23%) with country pavilions from the United States, Syria, Hungary and Portugal, participating for the first time.

Meanwhile, GITEX’s traditional consumer electronics retail extravaganza, GITEX Shopper & Consumer Electronics Expo managed to again exceed expectations in 2006, according to DWTC.

The event, which has also increasingly forsaken its traditional IT roots in recent years for more accessible mainstream consumer electronics products, proved a hit with GITEX visitors, who reportedly took home more than US$23 million worth of stock over the course of the seven day event.

According to DWTC, this year’s GITEX Shopper attracted more than 125,000 visitors, which exceeded last year’s result by 6.5%.

Major GITEX Shopper exhibitors including UAE-based power retailers Plug-Ins Electronix, Jacky’s Electronics and Jumbo Electronics, all reported strong sales during the week.

Plug-Ins Electronix divisional manager Bradley Bennett said the retailer enjoyed a 40% increase in sales during the first four days of GITEX Shopper 2006 compared to last year’s event, while Jacky’s Electronics COO Ashish Panjabi reported similar results.

“Our sales have been up by 30% to 40% compared to last year,” Panjabi said. “LCD TVs and monitors, notebook PCs and digital cameras were all popular items.”

Panjabi said the company’s involvement at this year’s GITEX Shopper had a positive impact on sales across its entire Dubai-based retail network.

“Several of our retail outlets benefited from our GITEX promotions and experienced a similar rise [in sales],” he said. “Popular products included notebook PCs, digital cameras, mobile handsets, gaming consoles and LCD TVs.

“GITEX Shopper has always been a major contributor to our annual sales performance and we were certainly very pleased with this year’s results.”

Kamran Khayal, sales and marketing manager for Dubai-based IT and consumer electronics reseller, Trigon, said the company surpassed its goal of US$400,000 in sales at GITEX Shopper.

Meanwhile, Jumbo Electronics reported a 35% increase in sales of Sony products at this year’s event compared to 2005. The official distributor of Sony products in the UAE, Jumbo claimed Cyber-shot digital camera sales rose 60%, while sales of Vaio notebooks doubled.

DWTC director general Helal Saeed Al Marri described this year’s GITEX Shopper as a huge success.

“The show occupied 22,000 sq metres in two halls and attracted more than 150 leading resellers, distributors and vendors offering some of the best deals in the Middle East,” he said.

DWTC also combined with a number of retailers to showcase lucrative promotions at GITEX Shopper, including a Shopper Mega Draw, which offered visitors the chance to win a home theatre system featuring a 40-inch plasma TV, in addition to other prizes including notebook PCs and digital cameras.

Meanwhile, back at DICEC, the first days of GITEX 2006 were marked by significant announcements and product launches from some of the consumer electronics industry’s biggest players.

Of huge importance to the region’s consumer electronics retailers was Sony’s confirmation that PlayStation 3 (PS3) would be launched in the Middle East in March. Colin Thomas, marketing manager of Sony Gulf’s PlayStation division, said he expected “significant stock inventory” to be made available to local retailers, safeguarding against the shortages that have frustrated retailers based in launch markets such as Japan and the United States.

“Stock shortages are always a major issue at launch when it comes to in-demand products such as PS3,” he said. “However, we are putting in place strategies to ensure regional distribution channels remain open in the initial months after launch when we expect consumer demand to be at its greatest.”

Thomas said he expected the inclusion of a Blu-ray DVD drive as standard on the PS3 to accelerate the uptake of the next-generation DVD format in the Middle East and prompt the region’s broadcasters to revisit their HD rollout plans.

“We anticipate the inclusion of a Blu-ray DVD drive in the PS3 to force a huge market shift in favour of the new technology,” he said.

“We expect PS3 to have a similar effect on Blu-ray DVD uptake as PS2 had on first generation DVDs.”

While PS3 attracted huge interest from GITEX delegates, Sony’s impressive raft of new HD products provided solid support to the company’s bid to be recognised as an HD pioneer in the Middle East.

The company debuted its first Vaio notebook equipped with a Blu-ray DVD drive, in addition to new HD camcorders, an expanded range of HD-ready Bravia LCD TVs, and its first stand-alone Blu-ray DVD player.

South Korean rival Samsung Electronics accepted the challenge thrown down by Sony and nearly matched the Japanese giant for sheer physical presence and new product releases.

The company debuted an expanded range of Bordeaux-branded HD-ready LCD TVs, a Blu-ray DVD player to rival Sony’s offering and the impressive dual speaker-equipped K5 portable music player.

It also celebrated its recent rise to number two behind Nokia in the Middle East mobile handset market with the launch of its ultra-slim P310 handset.

Samsung also previewed its new range of ultra-slimline notebook PCs destined for the Middle East in the first quarter of 2007.

A traditional exponent of LCD technology and one of the industry’s biggest panel suppliers, Samsung impressed punters and gave its competitors cause for concern with the official launch of its 102-inch plasma TV.

However, not to be outdone, Japanese consumer electronics giant Panasonic showcased its new 103-inch plasma TV at GITEX, leading wags to wonder whether the company’s engineers had their measuring tapes firmly sighted on Samsung’s efforts during the development phase.

Panasonic is also working hard to establish itself as a HD pioneer in the Middle East, with a bevy of new HD products making their debut at GITEX.

Taking the Blu-ray theme to the next level, the company showcased its Blu-ray DVD home theatre system that combined a large screen plasma TV, Blu-ray DVD player and surround-sound audio system, each linked by Panasonic’s Viera-link technology, which provides control of each component using a single remote control.

Panasonic also showcased its new range of Lumix digital cameras spearheaded by the impressive digital-SLR, the DMC-L1, in addition to its recently revised portfolio of Viera plasma TVs, which it claims are the first plasmas to be produced without the use of lead in the manufacturing process. Sharp Middle East took this theme to the next level, showcasing its efforts to reduce the environmental impact of its global manufacturing operations.

The company, which has become best known in recent years for its Aquos range of LCD TVs, has committed to an ambitious environmental policy to nullify its impact on the environment by 2010.

“Our goal is to make Sharp the number one eco-friendly consumer electronics brand,” said Tomio Isogai, managing director of Sharp Middle East. “We are extending this approach to our energy consumption, and the quality of our products.”

Sharp’s new environmental policy was encapsulated by its revised range of Aquos LCD TVs, which Isogai claimed consumed 30% less energy than equivalent sized CRT TVs.

South Korean industry giant LG Electronics showcased its Blu-ray range of super multi DVD, DVD writers and players. It also heavily promoted its wall-mounted HD projectors, and burgeoning range of 3G mobile handsets headlined by its hugely successful Chocolate phone.

Hitachi sought to play up its erstwhile low-profile presence in the Middle East market, branding its impressive GITEX stand with the tagline, ‘Japan’s best kept secret’.

Hitachi Gulf marketing executive Rohit Lohia said the company was determined to raise its profile in the region and planned a raft of new product releases over the coming months.

Hitachi showcased its impressive prototype 60-inch plasma TV at GITEX, which Lohia confirmed would begin shipping in July. The plasma is the world’s first to feature full 1920 x 1080i HD resolution, in addition to the company’s proprietary e-ALIS Method technology.

In the mobile handset space, Middle East newcomer O2 confirmed plans to establish regional offices in the first quarter of 2007, after posting impressive results in its first six months of operation in the region.

It also previewed its new range of smart handsets destined for the Middle East next quarter, headed by the impressive Windows Mobile 5.0-based Xda Zinc.

O2 Asia Pacific CEO Mark Billington said the company had identified the Middle East as key to its global growth plans.

“We’ve already achieved significant success in the GCC in conjunction with our regional channel partners,” he said. “With the addition of O2 staff on the ground, we expect to take this success to the next level.”

Dubai-based smartphone vendor and O2 rival i-mate showcased its latest handset range, spearheaded by the worldwide launch of its JAQ3 smartphone.

i-mate founder and CEO Jim Morrison claimed the company’s rapid growth mirrored the emergence of Dubai as a regional hub for technological innovation.

“We arrived here as a small company, have grown rapidly and are now exporting cutting-edge technology and solutions around the world from our Dubai base,” he said. “Many consumers in this region choose to purchase an i-mate device because we are perceived as a local company.”

With the continued growth of GITEX assured by the inclusion of new industry components such as GULFCOMMS, event organisers have confirmed plans to shift the event to the massive new Dubai Exhibition World in 2009. Dubai Exhibition World, based in Exhibition City, will be one of the largest facilities of its kind in the world when it is completed.

In the meantime, DWTC is confident existing facilities at the DICEC will be able to accommodate the expected 10% year-on-year growth in visitor numbers and exhibitors over the next two years.

GITEX Shopper has always been a major contributor to our annual sales performance and we were certainly very pleased with this year’s results. Ashish Panjabi, COO of Jacky’s Electronics.

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