Tech fair CeBIT hopes new gadgets will woo back consumers
CeBIT, the world's biggest technology trade fair, opened to the public in Hannover on Tuesday, as the beleaguered IT sector sought to woo consumers with trendy gadgets to make life easier and more fun.
"Connected Worlds" is the theme of this year's trade show, with companies aiming to showcase energy and labour-saving devices that use wireless technology to communicate with each other and with users far away. But, as ever, the CeBIT is not all work and no play.
A host of mind-boggling futuristic devices will be on display, from mobile phones that can open your front door to "silent sound" devices that measure the movements of your lips and transform them into sound.
And hot on the heels of the stunning success of James Cameron's 3D film adventure "Avatar," the latest edition of CeBIT is definitely best viewed in three dimensions.
From screens that transform two-dimensional images into three by monitoring a viewer's eye patterns to 3D Internet that allows shoppers to "try on" the latest fashions, 3D is the unofficial buzzword of this year's show.
This year, however, the CeBIT takes place against a tricky backdrop for Germany's high-tech sector, as the industry recovers gingerly from a crisis-hit 2009 and cautiously eyes better days ahead.
According to German IT industry lobby, BITKOM, turnover in the sector will be flat this year, before growing by around 1.6 percent in 2011 to €142 billion ($193 billion).
After a catastrophic 2009, where turnover shrank 4.3 percent, "demand is taking off significantly, especially in the IT sector," said BITKOM President August-Wilhelm Scheer.
The CeBIT fair itself has also seen better days. This year, just under 4,200 companies are setting up shop at the event, in Hanover, northern Germany. This is around half the number attending in the halcyon days of the dotcom boom.
Visitor numbers too have declined steadily, with only 400,000 punters through the turnstiles last year, compared to around double that at the turn of the century.
With this in mind, the fair is seeking to shed its image of a dry technical trade show and lure consumers with a special section on the music industry and a classroom where schoolchildren will test the latest educational gadgets.
"We're trying to attract more consumers," said Hartwig von Sass, a spokesman for Deutsche Messe, that organises the event.
Opening the fair, Chancellor Angela Merkel issued a clarion call to the high-tech industry to compete with the likes of Volkswagen and Siemens when it comes to representing Germany in the global marketplace.
"I would like information and communications technology to become the figurehead of the German economy," she said late Monday in an official ceremony to open the event.
Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero of Spain, this year's partner country for the CeBIT, warned that without innovation and investment in the high-tech industries, Europe risked falling behind.
Calling for a "single digital market in Europe," he said: "Europe needs to make progress and make progress now in order not to lag behind countries like the United States and other new economies."
Zapatero and Merkel were set to visit some of the CeBIT's more high profile stands, such as IBM, Microsoft and Telefonica, during a traditional opening day "walkabout" early Tuesday.
The CeBIT runs through March 6.