Global Economics

The Best in Euro-Gadgetry


From Sony Ericsson's Walkman phone to Philips' easy-on-the-eyes flat-screen TVs, the year saw a host of winners from the Continent

Innovative European companies wowed consumers again this year with a raft of cool gadgets. From Sony Ericsson's slick line of MP3-ready Walkman cell phones to Philips' glowing Ambilight televisions to X-Technology's heat-sensitive athletic underwear, designers found plenty of ways to make an impression.

The challenge, more than ever, is to catch the attention of customers already bombarded with feature-rich products. Nearly every cell phone on the market today offers something extra, whether it's e-mail access, handwriting-recognition software, or a built-in video camera. So how to stand out?

Blending In

Sony Ericsson did it with a mix of branding and clever design. Its Walkman phone isn't the only one to combine telephony and music. The iTunes-ready Motorola ROKR and Nokia N91 phones are among many competitors. But Sony Ericsson's added touches—animated menus, intuitive CD-to-phone transfer software, and an option to give a "mood" rating for each song—along with the memorable Walkman name, have made these phones a huge hit. Sony Ericsson has sold 15 million of them since late 2005, and they were sellouts in many Cingular Wireless stores in the U.S.

Other companies, such as Dutch electronics giant Philips, found little ways to enhance familiar activities. Its Ambilight FlatTV, which makes viewing easier by generating its own ambient background light, was a big hit at this year's FIFA World Cup in Berlin. During the tournament, throngs of fans watched the action on a 250-square-foot Ambilight screen hung near the Brandenburg Gate. The smaller screens have been a big hit too, selling over 1 million units.

And that's not all. Click here to take a look at some of the year's most noteworthy European-designed gadgets, from audio players to miniature beer taps to GPS navigation systems.

Carlin is a reporter in BusinessWeek's Paris bureau.

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