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CES 2011: Catching Up With Apple

It's the year of the tablet, or so the expected product announcements at CES suggest. Better late than never.

The Consumer Electronics Show, 2011 International CES, begins on Thursday, January 6, in Las Vegas, Nevada, but it's already possible to get a sense of the kinds of announcements planned for the largest tech trade show in the U.S.

Count on a number of noteworthy product launches related to tablets and netbooks, cars and automobile electronics, and mobile phones. But temper your expectations.

You can guess what's coming from the show's keynote speakers: Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg, AUDI AG chairman Rupert Stadler, Ford Motor Company president and CEO Alan Mulally, Samsung president and general manager of the company's visual display business Boo-Keun Yoon.

Cisco CEO John Chambers, GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt, and Xerox CEO Ursula Burns will be participating in a panel on innovation. But don't expect a lot of real innovation. This year's show seems to be aiming to deliver on the promises made last year. If you own an Apple iPad, you may want to sleep in.

Microsoft is expected to announce several new tablets from Dell and Samsung powered by the company's Windows 7 operating system. These tablets have been referred to by some as "iPad killers," probably at the urging of the same marketing firm that pitched Cuil as the Google killer.

Of course revolutions to overthrow market leaders like Apple and Google do not always pan out. At CES in 2010, CEO Steve Ballmer demonstrated a Windows-powered HP slate. Then in April, HP said it planned to acquire Palm and decided to dump Windows 7 on tablets in favor of Palm's webOS. Here's to hoping the 2011 assault on the iPad brings more than vaporware to bear on the iTunes empire.

Verizon, having launched its 4G network, can be expected to promote LTE smartphones, from LG and other handset makers. It's theoretically possible that Verizon could announce that it will offer Apple's iPhone on its network, now that Apple and AT&T have decided to see other companies.

But Apple traditionally abstains from CES and would likely insist that Verizon announce a partnership at a time and place of Apple's choosing, where there are no other companies competing for attention. Even so, Apple CEO Steve Jobs might just decide to steal CES's thunder by talking about the next version of the iPad when the Mac App Store debuts January 6, the opening day of CES.

Also expect announcements about Android phones, lots of them. The Windows 7 Phone crystal ball is less clear. What appears unlikely is news of mobile hardware from HP's Palm. Sony Ericsson and Motorola have press conferences scheduled and thus presumably have new model mobile devices to present.

3D TVs, a big deal at last year's show, can be expected to return, though it's hard to understand why. We may see a few more Internet-enabled TVs from a new Google TV hardware provider or two. Vizio on Monday announced a smartphone and tablet running Android, along with an HDTV and Blu-ray player with built-in Google TV.

Yahoo is also planning to add value to TVs with a service called Yahoo! Connected TV, which will be available on TVs from Sony, Samsung, VIZIO, LG, and Toshiba.

There will be plenty of peripherals too, like digital cameras and printers, all of which hopefully will be Internet- and WiFi-enabled. The new Samsung HMX-Q10 camcorder looks particularly nice.

What CES needs is more platforms like Android or at least more products that build on existing platforms. Shiny gear is great -- everyone benefits from choice -- but platforms are better. Platforms lead to new opportunities and new possibilities.

Google TV may be suffering due to its lack of content partners and a late Android SDK, but the prospect of being able to create apps for the living room -- without a gatekeeper -- is more exciting than gimmicky 3D TVs.

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