One overall impression from IFA 2012 has been reinforced here at CES. Chinese setmakers have learned fast and appear to have mastered many of the technology steps necessary for producing top-flight televisions. Furthermore they now have a domestic market full of gadget-hungry consumers in which to experiment. Smart, 3D and LED are features which ship in the same mix in China as Japan or Western Europe – and far higher than the North American market.
IFA 2012 showed that the Chinese were on-pace with new innovations – they all had 4k2k demonstrators. The product offerings form Chinese brands at CES are very close to what Korean and Japanese brands had to offer in terms of basic technology. In particular, Smart TV gaming using smartphones as controllers is something that some Chinese brands seem particularly good at, with even a lead perhaps. It is a far cry from the me-too commodity products that appeared some 5-10 years ago and which were generally fought off by incumbents.
The competitive edge of established brands is increasingly one of soft skills: how to understand consumer needs, articulate them into products and finally market them successfully. The challenge for Chinese brands is to move from an engineering-led culture (which served them well in closing the gap) towards one based more on product management, brand marketing and commercial relationships. It is perhaps even more difficult than the first stage.
What is clear is that Chinese brands are poised to attack developed overseas markets. While the general truce that has emerged in the past year or two will last a while longer, a renewed intensity of competition can be expected soon. It will be interesting to see if it will be based on pricing or innovation.