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LAS VEGAS -- Smartphones and tablets are taking the world by storm, but the consumer electronics industry as a whole is in a rut and is expected to stay there.
The dollar value of global sales of tech products fell an estimated 1 percent last year, according to joint research from the Consumer Electronics Association and GfK, a German market research firm. This year, electronics sales are expected to grow just 4 percent.
"We're really struggling to achieve any significant level of growth across mature markets," said Steve Bambridge, business director of boutique research at GfK.
The forecast could put something of a damper on the Consumer Electronics Show, which is officially set to kick off here on Monday night with a keynote speech from Qualcomm CEO Paul Jacobs. The gigantic show serves as a platform for tech companies to show off their new products for the coming year.
And things actually may be worse than projected. Some reports indicate that holiday sales in the United States were lower than previously expected. If so, the estimated growth rate for North American tech sales -- about 1 percent last year and 3 percent this year -- could be even less, said Steve Koenig, director of industry analysis at CEA. That would also lead to lower sales around the globe.
Last year, the two organizations predicted that tech sales would grow 5 percent in 2012. But economic troubles in major markets, including the United States, Western Europe and Japan, weighed on the sector last year and will continue to do so in 2013.
Two bright spots for the tech industry have been smartphones and tablets. The dollar value of tablet sales grew 60 percent in 2012 from the year before while smartphones grew 38 percent. Together, the two products now account for some 40 percent of spending on electronics worldwide.
But the success of those products has been something of a double-edged sword for the industry as a whole. Sales of essentially every other major technology product, from feature phones to flat-screen televisions to car navigation devices, fell last year. In many cases, those declines can be attributed or linked to the success of smartphones and tablets.
Bambridge noted that during the holiday season, sales of laptops plunged 20 percent or more in Western Europe while tablet sales grew more than 100 percent. The success of tablets has also come amid plunging sales of small-screen televisions, those with display sizes of 20 inches or less.
"Are they cannibalizing the purchase of other tech devices? To some extent that's true," Bambridge said.