MAJOR manufacturers of mobile phones, handhelds, notebooks and printers are optimistic of the IT gadgets market growth but have mixed feelings about fierce competition from Chinese brands.
An industry source who spoke to StarBiz on conditions of anonymity said this year would see new technologies surfacing which would influence the usage of gadgets. It is also seen to affect the revenue growth of manufacturers.
He added technological advancements in gadgets functionalities would also be the battle ground between manufacturers to determine their market leadership.
Handhelds and notebooks
On the handheld and notebook markets, the source said manufacturers would push dependable wireless connectivity with high security features into their products.
Palm Inc's marketing manager for South Asia, Frankie Liow said the handheld market would continue to evolve and Palm is seeing a clear split into two distinct customer audiences: professional or enterprise users and consumer users.
At Palm, we are also focusing our research and development efforts on coming out with product propositions that address the needs of two distinct sets of handheld users, he added.
Last September, Palm announced two sub-brands; Tungsten and Zire to provide product line differentiation for each distinctive audience.
This is to show we are serious about addressing the needs of each of them.
On the wireless front, he sees the future will be about devices that seamlessly provide wireless connectivity, using technologies like Bluetooth and 802.11b.
We see each of these technologies as complementary and we support both technologies.
On the question of whether Bluetooth or 802.11b is the optimal technology depends on the location and working style of the user.
We see Bluetooth as a preferred global wireless standard for the handheld industry, whereas 802.11b is the obvious choice for bandwidth-intensive wireless local area network (WLAN) environments, he added.
Meanwhile, Hewlett-Packard (HP) would continue to market iPAQ handhelds to both enterprise and end-users.
It sees both types of users increasingly having similar technological needs. In two weeks, HP would launch the HP iPAQ 5450 model to the commercial market while Palm has yet to have plans to release any models.
Niche notebook manufacturer, Fujitsu sees portability and WLAN solutions would remain as a trend in the notebook market. Y S Ng, Fujitsu PC (Asia) Pte Ltd's director of Malaysia operations added notebook features are standard across board and processor speed remained an ongoing battle story.
On the mobile phone market, the source said colour and style might not be enough.
Mobile phone manufacturers must be able to deliver phones to market when promised and be less aggressive on pricing.
All this elements must be accompanied when trying to increase market share in the industry where rivals also boast phones with similar looks and style.
This would mean cutting costs further.
Alex Wong, vice-president of Siemens Malaysia Sdn Bhd, said this year would be a challenging and interesting year for the mobile phone market.
Siemens who currently stands at number four in the local mobile phone market said it would spend no less than RM10mil this year for advertising and promotions.
It hoped to crank up its market share from 6% last year to 10% this year.
This would mean eyeing for the number three spot in the local market share.
The key drivers for the mobile phones market would be the new mobile services such as the soon-to-be-released multimedia messaging services (MMS).
This would inspire the demand for colour screen and camera phones, he added.
He pointed out mobile phone manufacturers are busy developing exciting phones on MMS and general packet radio service or GPRS platforms with better features and functionalities from previous phone models.
He went on to add that the k-java software would be utilised fully to enhance gaming on the phones.
Nokia general manager for the mobile phones unit, Barry Lee expressed similar opinion to Wong and he sees MMS would be launched by the telcos in the first quarter of this year.
Nokia cannot rest on its laurels. We planned to have more products with new embedded technologies such as our Java applications to counter our competitors.
MMS would be the main driver in the replacement market and we expect it to be commercialised early next year, he added.
It has started to campaign aggressively Nokia phones with MMS features to end-users.
Moving forward, Lee sees phones and notebooks connectivity would be another goldmine.
Eric Chong, Motorolas country manager, personal communications sector told StarBiz:
Overall, it depends on how telcos would drive end-users to the business. There are issues to be sorted out before MMS can be released.
Telcos have to justify the costs of deploying MMS, substantial investment is required and finally, the readiness of telcos to deploy MMS.
Samsung Electronic's chief representative Kim Jeong Wook had at the end of last year cited fierce competition from other major phone manufacturers and had since cut its sales growth forecast to 10% this year from 20% expected growth.
Kim expected competitors to flood the market with newly enhanced models and capabilities, adding that competitors had marketed similar phone designs and are priced lower than Samsung's.
However, he is confident Samsung would be able to weather the competition given its segmentation and unique phone features.
Both Samsung and Siemens had said they would release camera phones in the first quarter of this year.
On the other hand, the printer market would no longer depend solely on the sales of computers, said the industry source adding that the printers are now being used to print photographs taken from digital cameras.
We will see more printers that can support digital camera functions to enable photograph printing.
Having said that, we see a tremendous sales growth of 200% to 300% on digital cameras this year. It would definitely boost the printer market further, he said.
Liew Sip Chon, Canon Marketing (Malaysia) Sdn Bhd's senior director and general manager consumer imaging & information group and corporate communications division said previously printer sales growth would depend on sales of computers.
Right now, theprinter market is no longer dependent on the computer market.
We see the digital cameras and printers related and it is a new area of business growth.
It was projected about 130,000 to 150,000 units of digital cameras would be shipped this year, he added.
HP, another player in the printer marker also see similar opportunities.
It had been campaigning its photo printing printer since last year.
Epson Trading (M) Sdn Bhd who is Canon's close rival would soon release three new models next month to the business and end users.