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The experts tell us about the peripherals sector

Add-on sales

We are still suffering the aftershocks of a major financial crisis, and the media is always keen to remind us of the economic doom and gloom that surrounds us. But the cloud seems to be lifting, and consumers are starting to spend again – well they are, at least, on technology.

According to research firm Gartner, global PC shipments exceeded 90 million units during the fourth quarter of last year – a 22 per cent increase on the same period in 2008 and the strongest growth in seven years. Each machine sold requires a whole host of peripherals to go with it, from keyboards and mice to headsets. Even laptops, which claim to offer an all-inone solution, can often benefit from add-on devices.

Gamers are notoriously big spenders on hardware – after all, your machine is only as powerful as its weakest component – and peripherals play a major part. The UK gaming peripherals market (for PCs and consoles) was worth £630 million last year, according to GfK-CharTrack, with total sales of 35.8 million units.

Meroncourt’s sales director, Steve Walsh, is not surprised that the sector is doing so well. “Gaming mice, keyboards, headsets and pads continue to show excellent growth, even in the current economic climate. Hardcore gamers will not compromise on quality and specification when it comes to purchasing for their favourite pastime. They may make cuts elsewhere, but not from their gaming budget,” he says.

Yen Tru, a marketing executive at Interactive Ideas, agrees: “Dedicated PC and flight simulator gamers will go all out with peripherals and create entire cockpits in their rooms.”

According to some industry figures, certain games released last year contributed heavily to the peripherals boom. Glen Rhodes, a product manager for Target Components, says that Modern Warfare 2 sparked a large influx of gaming hardware, from specially customised keyboards to throat communicators and wireless headsets. Realtime product manager Hannah Horne singles out World of Warcraft, which has over 11 million subscribers worldwide, as being particularly influential.

“The speed and precision of movement that is achievable from a gaming mouse is far in excess of what is possible with a laptop trackpad. The competitive edge that a high-end mouse brings to game play is something that gamers will always seek,” Horne offers.

It’s not just gamers who buy premium peripherals. Chris Elt, sales manager for SteelSeries UK, believes they also appeal to your average consumer. “Gamers are extremely demanding customers for high-quality, technical features and performance, so naturally all SteelSeries peripherals are becoming attractive to more mainstream customers,” he says.

Rhodes believes that while high-end, non-gaming peripherals are a niche market, they do appeal to a certain section of consumers: “I expect the core customer base will be people who use their computer extensively for work or personal purposes, and want a premium product for ease of use.”

CCI Distribution’s business development manager, Cliff Cheetham, claims branding is key for peripherals with a high price point. “When it comes to best sellers, if it’s associated with Apple or Nintendo, or has HD in the title, it will invariably draw attention and sell in good quantities,” he says.

Indeed, the ‘iPod white’ look has been adopted by a number of vendors, creating a subconscious link between their products and the Apple super-brand. John Osborne, general manager of the PC components division at Computer 2000, suggests: “Premium products do sell and most of the time the buyer will be someone who bought a budget product last time. While there are great entry level products around, experienced users have a better idea of what they want and an understanding of the benefits.”

By contrast, EntaTech peripherals product manager Howard Barnes says budget peripherals are most popular with consumers and resellers: “The volume sales remain with the entry level solutions, and price point is still a number one priority for most resellers, consistently driven by consumer demand. With the credit crunch still biting into the economy and the recent VAT increase, both end users and businesses will continue looking for aggressively priced products to accommodate tighter budgets.”

According to IDC research, portable PCs will see growth of 18.1 per cent this year. But rather than killing off peripherals, the increasing popularity of notebooks and netbooks actually creates new opportunities for vendors to launch relevant products.

“Manufacturers have added to their product ranges for the mobile market. Most users will still prefer a notebook mouse instead of using the pad, and there have been notebook stands and webcams released dedicated to such use. Obviously, keyboard sales have slightly declined in line with the ownership of notebooks, but most of the business sector uses both,” offers Barnes.

SteelSeries’ Elt adds: “As the laptop market grows, we are finding higher demand for peripherals, especially with our range of headsets. Laptops are more personal devices than PCs, and commonly used for Skype and VoIP that require higher levels of privacy.”

Of course, the key factor in stocking any range or product is whether it will make a good margin. According to Spire’s marketing manager, Chris Parker, this simply is not a problem for mice and keyboards. “Peripherals provide decent margins and are an obvious add-on sale to any system and laptop. Peripherals tend to be relatively inexpensive, therefore having a reasonable range doesn’t require a huge investment. Also, the wider the range, the more customers will find what they want and keep coming back.”

Trust GXT10 Gaming Headset
Distributors: Ingram Micro, EntaTech, Micro-P, Interactive Ideas
SRP: £20.99

The GXT10 has full size soft ear pads and a padded headband to give the user comfort, while blocking out unwanted sound. It also features inline volume control and an adjustable microphone with mute switch

Exspect Drop ‘N’ Charge Kit for XBox 360
Distributors: Gem Distribution
SRP: £29.99

This kit replaces standard batteries in the console’s controller with an Exspect compatible battery pack, which can then be charged by placing them on the included charging pad – no docking required. The device holds up to two separate batteries, that can be charged simultaneously or separately

Emprex Wireless Media Keyboard With Trackball
Distributors: CCI Distribution, Target Components
SRP: £29.99

This ergonomically designed keyboard allows users to control their PC wirelessly, and also supports Xbox 360 and PS3 with full functionality and wireless connectivity. It has an integrated mouse, remote and 16 hotkeys

Logitech Gaming Mouse G500
Distributor: Gem Distribution
SRP: £59.99

The G500 has an adjustable DPI to give gamers more accurate precision – ranging from 200 DPI to 5700 DPI. Full speed USB also ensures that the mouse is smooth and responsive, while weight tuning allows the user to customise the feel of the device

Hercules XPS 2.1 35 Speakers
Distributor: Interactive Ideas
SRP: £40.85

These speakers are magnetically shielded, with a headphone jack and secondary line input on the remote control. The set is designed to be compact, taking up minimal space and has a 1.8m cable to connect to the audio source

Mionix Naos 5000
Distributor: Meroncourt
SRP: £65

This 5040 DPI laser mouse is ergonomically designed with weight tuning for optimal weight distribution. It also features adjustable lift-distance, seven programmable buttons, five onboard profiles and customisable LED lights

Early Learning Upper Case Keyboard
Distributor: Spire Technology
SRP: £24.95

This keyboard is for both children and adults, with large white keys – ideal for young kids, and individuals who have difficulties with hand co-ordination

SteelSeries Siberia V2 White Headset
Distributors: EntaTech, Interactive Ideas
SRP: £79.99

According to SteelSeries, the V2 was developed with professional gamers to ensure that the soundscape and design met their needs. The lightweight but thick leather earcups provide outside sound isolation, while the headband is designed to remain comfortable

Saitek K140 Backlit Slimline Multimedia Keyboard
Distributor: EntaTech
SRP: £29.99

This slimline keyboard is designed to save space on the user’s desk, and features an integrated wrist rest. It has red and blue backlighting and rotary brightness control to increase key legibility in dark conditions. Easy access buttons include media controls and Windows and Office hot keys

Razer Naga MMOG Laser Gaming Mouse
Distributor: Realtime Distribution
SRP: £71.99

The Naga has 17 buttons optimised for massively multiplayer online gaming, and the user can program thousands of different commands. The mouse has 5600 DPI and a maximum tracking speed of 200 inches per second

Filco Majestouch N-Key Rollover Keyboard
Distributor: The Keyboard Company
SRP: £111.63

Filco’s Majestouch range comes in three variants and features ‘N-key Rollover’, which recognises simultaneous key presses. The Black version of the device, according to the vendor, does not transmit a bump to the user’s fingertip when pressed and does not make any sound. Brown has tactile, but not clicky keys, while Blue is both tactile and clicky

AF Game-Clene Plus
Distributor: Advent Data
SRP: £9.99

This compact gel cleaning kit is designed for sanitising a variety of surfaces, including peripherals. Special buds are included to allow users to clean hard-to-reach areas. Also contained in the pouch is 15ml of the cleaning solution and a micro-fibre cloth

Gigabyte GM-M8000 Laser Gaming Mouse
Distributor: Target Components
SRP: £55

Gigabyte’s mouse has adjustable sensitivity up to 4000 DPI and supports 15 customisable onboard settings. It also features weight tuning up to 38g and five programmable buttons, while the scroll wheel has 24 individual click positions

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