CES 2011As the world’s economic recovery continues, the global consumer electronics market is expected to grow 10 percent in 2011 to $964 billion, according to a new forecast by the Consumer Electronics Association.

That’s more than twice as fast as the Conference Board’s projection for the world’s gross domestic product, a measure of the size of the total economy. World GDP is expected to grow just 4.5 percent in 2011.

In other words, the gadget economy is becoming a bigger and bigger part of the business world — and may be one of its more important growth engines.

The positive numbers should reinforce a sense of optimism in tech circles about the continuing recovery, and it should inspire companies from the smallest startups to the biggest conglomerates to keep investing for a stage of continued growth.

“It’s clear that global retail sales of tech products have rebounded,” said Steve Koenig, analyst at the CEA, which puts on CES. “Technology is at the vanguard in leading the recovery.”

The CEA released the information at a press event at the beginning of the Consumer Electronics Show, the tech extravaganza in Las Vegas this week. If the year turns out better than expected, consumer electronics sales could very well top $1 trillion in 2011, said Koenig. Consumers are going for three screens: TVs, PCs, and phones.

In 2010, sales worldwide grew 13 percent to $873 billion. That was after sales fell 9 percent to $770 billion in 2009 in the midst of the big recession. The fastest growing category in 2010 was smartphones, which grew 51 percent. In 2010, smartphones are expected to grow 59 percent, and mobile PCs are expected to grow 26 percent. By contrast, video game consoles shrank in sales for the second consecutive year, mainly because consoles launched five years ago are getting near saturation.

In 2010, the recovery came across the board. Almost every region’s sales grew. Japan was flat, but China consumer electronics sales grew 25 percent and Africa grew 70 percent, coming off a low base. By comparison, most regions of the world saw lower sales in 2009.In 2011, North American sales will grow 15 percent, Western Europe will grow 23 percent, China will grow 15 percent, and Japan will grow 8 percent.

North America’s share of overall sales is now 15 percent, compared to 19 percent in 2010 and 24 percent in 2007. Meanwhile, China will grow from 13 percent of the world market in 2010 to 15 percent in 2011. That’s a sign that consumer electronics sales are taking off in emerging markets.

Wireless handsets grew 13 percent in 2010 and should grow 11 percent in 2011, compared to a 5 percent drop in 2009.

[Top photo via CEA; bottom by Dean Takahashi/VentureBeat]