10 Things I Learned In Europe

As we have seen from the Grecian (and Irish and Portuguese) debt crisis, what happens outside the U.S. definitely doesn’t stay outside the U.S. For this reason, what happens around the world consumer electronics-wise can’t stay in outside the U.S., either.

For this reason, IFA, the premier European technology show held in Berlin each September, is becoming increasingly important even to U.S.-centric technology businesses. Not that we all have to go to Berlin (a beautiful, vibrant city, yet which one European described to me as “wounded”), but it’s probably helpful to be aware of what’s going on beyond our ocean bookends.

This past weekend I was in Dubrovnik, Croatia for an international press preview of this year’s IFA, scheduled for August 31-September 5.

Most illuminating were statistical briefings from GfK and DisplaySearch. Here are 10 interesting PowerPoint tidbits.

1. Tech business is good. Sales of digital goods worldwide passed the trillion U.S. dollar mark for the first time in 2011 ($1,077US), and are expected to grow around 2% in 2012 to $1,102US – but just flat in most of the developed world (.3% up in Europe, down 2% in North America and down 6% in “developed” Asia).

2. In Asia, tech business is great. So where is the tech business growing? “Emerging” Asia (up 10% in 2012), South America (up 12%) and Middle East/Africa (up 13%). But Asia, developing or emerging, is the giant sales opportunity. Overall, retail sales in Asia comprise 35% of worldwide money spent on tech. Considering Asia contains 61% of the world’s population, there’s still plenty of room to sell. Within Asia, Southeast Asian digital sales are expected to grow 20% this year. So what are the big sellers in Asia?

3. Asia loves mobile phones. What a shock! Okay, here’s something that may be. Seven Asian countries – Hong Kong, Singapore, Vietnam, Myanmar, Taiwan, South Korea and Taiwan – have mobile phone penetration rates of MORE than 100%; Hong Kong is approaching 200%. So nearly everyone in Hong Kong owns TWO mobile phones? One for business, one for personal is one reason; smartphones can’t yet do mobile payments, but feature phones can is another. Despite their lack of digital wallet capabilities, smartphone sales in Asia will jump 69% in 2012 compared to 39% globally (which includes Asia). Which smartphones are Asians buying? Nearly two-thirds own Android models.

4. Digital camera sales are flat. Again, not a headline – but there’s no sales growth because digicam sales are expected to dip 5% in Asia. Here’s an interesting statistic: in smartphone-crazy Asia, 99% of all devices sold with an 8 MP imager or less are smartphones. And apparently gaming console sales are down in Asia as well as smartphones continue to subsume cameras, game players and other dedicated devices.

5. Americans love big screen smart HDTVs. Everyone else, not so much. Nearly 10% of Americans own an HDTV 50 inches or larger and 32% of Americans and Canadians own a smart TV; only 4.2 and 22% of Western Europeans and just 3.1% and 13% of Eastern Europeans have 50-inch or larger HDTVs and smart TVs, respectively. Of course, just because someone owns a smart TV doesn’t mean it’s actually connected to the Internet. Perhaps more interesting: we owned our old tube TVs for an average of 11 years; comparatively, we own our flat HDTVs for an average of just six years.

6. But no one will love OLED HDTVs. Samsung and LG made huge splashes at CES with supermodel skinny OLED HDTVs. But DisplaySearch’s Paul Gray asserts OLED TV “is still a science project” (SLAM!) and just 50,000 OLED sets will be shipped this year, only five million in 2015. The research company also is pessimistic about the prospects of 4K HDTV.

7. Larger and larger slices of retail CE sales are conducted online. Once more, duh!, but do you know by how much? In the U.S., 19% of all CE sales are of the “click & mortar” or straight online variety, 15.5% in Europe and 15% in Korea. In Europe, online tech sales have grown by nearly 2% each year since 2008.

8. Asians call tablet PCs “webbooks.” Maybe the word “tablet” doesn’t translate well in various Asian languages. But if an Asian you’re doing business with says “webbook,” you’ll know what they’re talking about. The U.S. maintains its webbook/tablet dominance likely because iPad isn’t as widely available outside the U.S. This year, 45 million of whatever-you-call-them will be sold in the U.S., more than the rest of the world combined. But tablet sales in Europe are expected to nearly treble this year; in Hong Kong, webbooks just surpassed sales of notebooks and have reached 71% of notebook sales in Singapore.

9. 1.1 billion Internet-connected devices with screens will be sold in 2012. This includes smartphones, tablets, notebook and laptop PCs, and smart HDTVs, and DOESN’T include Blu-ray players or appliances or any other Internet-connected device without a screen. Considering that that the iPhone, which really ignited the mobile Internet device craze (laptops with integrated Internet connectivity also is a recent phenomena), is only five years old, I find this an astounding statistic.

10. Language is the biggest roadblock of expanding technology into foreign markets. The North American market contains 458 million people who speak primarily three languages. But the 700 million people in Europe are spread across 45 countries and speak more than 100 languages, not including regional and local dialects. But at least European languages and culture are recognizable to us in the West, which is why Asia seems so, well, foreign. This lack of a common language for instruction manuals, onscreen menus, speech recognition, etc., is a huge roadblock to spreading digital technology.

And speaking for all us stupid omni-lingual Americans, it’s one reason why the rest of the world seems such a scary place for business.