The Breakdown

Explaining Southern California's economy

The Gadget Age comes to an end

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My old blogging colleague from my days at CBSnews.com, Erik Sherman, has some bad news for the gadget business:

For many years, experts kept talking about convergence and how amazing it would be for consumers. Well, it has finally arrived and, yup, it's pretty cool for regular people. But converged devices means that consumer won't need nearly as many gadgets, and fewer will be sold.

Erik brings this up as the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) opens in Las Vegas. He also references this dispiriting post from Kara Swisher at AllThingsD, which lays out some grim holiday sales numbers:

Blu-ray players: Down 17 percent.

Camcorders: Down 42.5 percent.

Digital picture frames: Down 37.5 percent.

GPS: Down 32.6 percent.

HDD: Down 25.1 percent.

Mice and keyboards: Down 7.1 percent.

MP3 players: Down 20.5 percent.

Multifunction printers: Down 9.9 percent.

Point-and-shoot cameras: Down 20.8 percent.

The bottom line is that convergence has rendered all these devices irrelevant. This allows for a simpler life, obviously. But gadgetmakers do not want us to enjoy a simpler life. 

One aspects of these figures that's kind of interesting, in a world of smartphones and tablets that run on finger navigation and have no physical keyboards is how limited the decline in sales has been for mice and keyboards. Maybe everybody who needs one or the other already has one.

But I've actually found that as our computing becomes more and more mobile, when we do drop down and occupy space for a bit — and not at Starbucks — it can be nice to create a kind of quasi-desktop. I routinely attach a keyboard and mouse to my MacBook Air when I'm bloggin' hard at KPCC's office.

That said, Erik has noted a worrisome trend. The device business is all about fewer companies, producing a core of gadgets. When we look back on, say, the 2005-2011 period, when MP3 players and point-and-shoot cameras shared space with smartphones, we may think of it as a Golden Age of Gadgetry.

Follow Matthew DeBord and the DeBord Report on Twitter.

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