Once-vaunted tech firms struggle against challengers' onslaught

Los Angeles TimesDecember 26, 2012 

Consumer electronics are among the most popular holiday gifts, but how many people really wanted a BlackBerry tablet, a Panasonic television or a Nokia smartphone for Christmas?

It’s been a tough year for old-guard tech companies including Sony, Sharp, Panasonic, Nokia and Research in Motion, which not too long ago enjoyed widespread popularity. Now, for a variety of reasons – price, slow pace of innovation, lack of coolness factor and a cutthroat market – the former stalwarts are frequently becoming second-tier options among fickle consumers.

“There is a consolidation around just a handful of players,” said Bob Bellack, chief executive of Newegg North America, an online electronics retailer. “There’s going to be a handful of companies that have huge resources that are able to build a castle and a moat around it …, It’s actually very unfortunate for consumers in the long run.”

The effects are being seen in sales of cellphones, tablets and televisions, with industry leaders Samsung and Apple leading in nearly all categories.

In the U.S. smartphone market, the two top brands experienced “the lion’s share” of growth, market research firm NPD Group said. The group found that Apple’s iPhone took 31 percent of the market in the second quarter.

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