There's nothing quite like a flat market to get the creative juices flowing. And the monitor market right now is so flat it's going backwards.
According to IDC, the Australian PC monitor market contracted 8.7 per cent in the last quarter of last year, although it grew 16.9 per cent compared to the same quarter the previous year. Pulling the market down is the floundering desktop space, which, thanks to ever more affordable and efficient laptop technology, is losing ground.
Making the most of a flat market means focusing on what's going well, and as it so happens there are a couple of areas where resellers can still turn a buck. One section of the market that is leaping ahead thanks to combination of falling prices and a renewed interest in multimedia technology is widescreen monitors. However, there's also a creeper market for multiple screens, which could see clever resellers making a motza off standard desktop sales and out of adding value to the laptop market.
A growing market
In the first quarter of 2006, widescreen models had just 9.4 per cent of the overall market for monitors. This year, however, their market share jumped to 61 per cent. Moreover, according to senior analyst specialising in monitors for IDC, Lily Lin, there's no sign demand for widescreen technology will slow any time soon. "The market for widescreen technology will definitely continue to grow in the future," she said. "Right now, we are seeing most interest in 19-inch widescreen monitors. However, the fastest growing sales are of 22- and 24-inch widescreen monitors."
The sudden growth in demand for widescreen technology comes down to a number of factors, according to national channel manager for NEC, Daniel Hancox. At the same time as prices are falling, demand for richer PC-based multimedia is increasing.
"We're seeing really aggressive pricing, and you're also getting a lot of extra options as to how you connect the screens up," Hancox said. "In the home, people definitely want to watch movies and experience high-quality gaming through the PC, so it's predominantly driven by the home market, but we are also noticing interest from the manufacturing sector and other businesses."
So great is the demand for widescreen technology that many resellers are already standardising on flatter, wider screens. Owner of Adelaide-based reseller Creydall Systems, Adam Randall, said since prices for widescreen monitors had come down in the last 12 months he has virtually given up on what he terms "postage stamp" screens.
"The price difference is now insignificant so I just put together the bundles with widescreen monitors and my customers trust me that it's the right decision," he said. Selling predominantly into the small business mar- ket and the home space, Randall said compatibility issues had not been a problem as he handled all of the integration as part of the ser vice.
"It's true some of the older video cards can't handle widescreen resolution but I generally install a new screen as part of a total upgrade, so the hardware is all new as well," he said. "I upgrade all of the applications at the same time to make sure that it all works." Product manager for desktops at Australian OEM Optima, Andy Lo, is also seeing standardisation on widescreen monitors.
"We are definitely seeing increasing demand for widescreen LCD monitors on the retail market. This trend is due to desktop computers being used more for multimedia than word processing and other work-related tasks," Lo said. "The experience when watching movies, playing computer games and other entertainment is better with widescreen, hence we have this swift increase in demand."
But not all end users are convinced by falling prices.
Is big really beautiful?
According to channel manager for IT manufacturer and importer Top Victory Electronics, David Yeh, most government, education and corporate contracts continue to specify smaller screens and standard aspect ratios.
For many of these organisations upgrading to widescreen technology would involve a massive overhaul of the IT infrastructure and a raft of costly applications upgrades. Moreover, it would force a redesign of office or classroom space to fit in wider monitors, in an environment where space is generally at a premium.
"The corporate channel is still looking for 17-inch monitors because their applications are made for that monitor size, and size is a particular issue in the education sector, where they don't want to install larger screens," Yeh said.
It comes down to a question of what the PC is going to be used for and whether a larger screen is worth the effort.
"Education and corporate markets are still purchasing LCD monitors with standard aspect ratio as they feel that those are better for viewing documents and performing daily computing tasks," Optima's Lo said. "Also they would only use the computer with minimal multimedia purposes."
This leaves some resellers in the uncomfortable bind of having to push customers to upgrade when they don't really want to, as vendors attempt to standardise on ever increasing screen sizes. While vendors are pushing the standard screen size up past 19-inch and on to 22-inch models, schools, retailers, stockbrokers and the like are looking to hold onto 19- and 17-inch standard ratio technology sets.
"You can see some of the larger vendors are planning to discontinue the 17-inch models. This will create shortages at the same time as they are reducing prices on the larger models," Yeh said. "One day the whole corporate market will be forced to migrate across to widescreen monitors, but they won't really want to move until their applications are standardised on the larger screens as well. Schools are the same: most use applications designed for the standard aspect ratio and they don't want to have to upgrade all their applications." However, others in the channel believe the move to larger and wider screens is as much a pull from the consumer as it is a push from the vendors.