'Obama will help tech survive the crunch'

The CEA's Gary Shapiro
Gary Shapiro is President of the Consumer Electronics Association (CEA)

As the figurehead of the $173 billion US consumer electronics industry, Gary Shapiro's opinion counts – and he's counting on president-elect Barack Obama to help the gadget sector through the recession.

The CEO and president of CEA, organiser of the CES Show, took some time out to talk exclusively to TechRadar about his hopes for the new US government.

And with a slightly smaller CES Show this year than in recent years, Shapiro knows the US economy needs ideas. So, is Barack Obama going to be good for the stuttering consumer electronics industry? "I'm not sure," he tells us.

"On the one hand he's the first 'digital president'. He uses technology: he loves his BlackBerry and he understands the importance like no other President ever has. He's a big internet user and he used his cell phone to announce who he'd chosen as his Vice President."

Shapiro is referring to Obama's choice of Joe Biden as his running mate during his successful presidential election campaign. Text messages were sent to all of his supporters – such a huge use of the infrastructure that it partly collapsed the system.

"He's talked convincingly about the need for broadband and I know people close to him who are very technology savvy," says Shapiro, who claims to have met most US senators – though not Obama himself.

Obama has already publicly stated that he will protect the openess of the internet and deploy 'true' broadband to every American (currently only 90 per cent of the country can access fibre optic broadband – the rest must rely on much slower satellite access).

Shapiro is also keen on Obama's idea to have a Chief Technology Officer, something that no other President has thought necessary. "I live in Virginia, the first State in the US to have a Chief Technology Officer – he was my roommate!" Shapiro has even been in front of Select Committees in the UK talking about the position of a CTO and the world's first internet laws, passed in his home state.

Free trade and recycling

Despite Shapiro's optimism, he does have fears about Obama's commitment to free trade. "We have some concerns about Obama being an advocate of free trade – which is so important for technology – and the union support for his campaign. On the positive side, we see an opportunity to get an international environmental law passed." At the moment each US State has different laws for recycling.

The importance of the environmental lobby at CES can't be understated. This year's show has seen almost every manufacturer debut eco-friendly, power-saving devices using recyclable materials, while Greenpeace is also holding a press conference to 'name and shame' companies who don't act out their eco promises.

Ultimately, Shapiro thinks the mood of the country in the countdown to Obama's inauguration is in tune with exactly what the consumer electronics industry has to offer. "The most important things is that American voted for him because they wanted change," says Shapiro. "We believe that every time someone buys one of our products they want change – they change the status quo, they change businesses."

Despite Shapiro's upbeat mood, there was no escaping the fact that this year's CES Show was quieter than usual.

"There may be fewer people this year because there's fewer flights in to Las Vegas and because of the recession – and we've noticed that some exhibitors are bringing fewer people, but the exhibitor space is almost as big as last year. The economy is definitely a factor for some people, but the range of innovation gives me some [degree of] excitement for the future of this industry – especially compared to struggling industries like construction."

Jamie Carter

Jamie is a freelance tech, travel and space journalist based in the UK. He’s been writing regularly for Techradar since it was launched in 2008 and also writes regularly for Forbes, The Telegraph, the South China Morning Post, Sky & Telescope and the Sky At Night magazine as well as other Future titles T3, Digital Camera World, All About Space and Space.com. He also edits two of his own websites, TravGear.com and WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com that reflect his obsession with travel gear and solar eclipse travel. He is the author of A Stargazing Program For Beginners (Springer, 2015),