The Consumer Electronics Show is where makers of electronic devices showcase them for would-be buyers and the press. Attendance at the show this year, which will be held at the Las Vegas Convention Center in Las Vegas, is expected to attract more than 120,000 people. While that's down from previous records, it's still enough to ensure Las Vegas will be teeming with activity between January 6 and January 9.
Press conferences are being held by many of the marquee vendors in the electronics space, including Motorola, Panasonic, ASUS, Toshiba, Casio, Sony, Samsung, LG, Intel, Audiovox, Pioneer, General Motors, Skype, and T-Mobile USA.
InformationWeek sees two major trends developing at CES 2011. The first will be the widespread introduction of Android tablets. The second will be the take-off point for Long Term Evolution (LTE) and other 4G technologies. Beyond these big two, a number of smaller trends will emerge concerning smartphones, 3D TVs, connected cars, and laptops.
Motorola has already set the stage for a tablet announcements at CES, with a teaser video released before the Christmas holiday. The video depicted a number of historical tablets (10 Commandments, Rosetta Stone, iPad, Galaxy S) and led up to a Motorola tablet. The tablet is set to be unveiled at Motorola's press conference, on Wednesday.
Earlier in December, Google's Android guru, Andy Rubin, showed off a prototype Android device running Honeycomb (on Motorola hardware), a new version of Android made especially for tablets. Honeycomb was designed from the ground up to support tablets. It will boast features such as mobile video chat and won't require hardware buttons, allowing users to hold it any way they wish.
Motorola isn't the only company planning to debut an Android-based tablet at CES. ASUS, Acer, Dell, Lenovo, LG, Toshiba, and others are preparing to show off Android tablets, though there's no word if any of these will run Honeycomb.
It is less probable that Palm will show of a webOS tablet at CES, though we may see a bit more of RIM's PlayBook. Neither has scheduled press conferences during the show. One thing you can be sure of, CES 2011 will officially kick off the Year of the Tablet.
True 4G Battle Begins
Verizon Wireless is preparing an onslaught of new Long Term Evolution products for CES 2011. At launch in early December, Verizon's LTE network could only be used with two devices -- USB dongles made by LG and Pantech. I'd expect to see more dongles, perhaps a MiFi-like mobile hotspot creator, and definitely a tablet and/or smartphone. Expect to see other form factors as well, such as connected-home type items, including televisions, picture frames, and other appliances.
These devices won't necessarily be available right away, but they'll set the stage for what 4G can do. Verizon will use CES to more broadly demonstrate all that its LTE network can handle with respect to mobile broadband applications. Verizon will also likely detail the future expansion of its LTE network, including coverage. Verizon's press conference is being held Thursday.
T-Mobile also has a press conference on deck for CES, but hasn't provided hints about what the press conference will reveal. The company has already been making noise about upgrading its HSPA+ network from 21Mbps theoretical max downloads to 42Mbps max downloads. It says New York City will be the first to have 42Mbps HSPA+ go live. Perhaps CES will be the stage T-Mobile uses to make its plans known. Either way, it will continue to market its HSPA+ network as 4G. T-Mobile's press conference is on Thursday.
Sprint and AT&T haven't said much about plans for CES, but I'd be surprised if the companies were silent. They'll have to respond in some manner to what Verizon and T-Mobile are planning. AT&T has yet to share many details about its own LTE launch and has also been quiet about the nitty gritty of its HSPA+ network. AT&T and Sprint can't afford to sit on the 4G sidelines. They need to bring some more 4G (or at least, in AT&T's case, 3.5G) products to the market before they get lapped by the competition.
Wildcard: Microsoft's Ballmer
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will once again kick off the Consumer Electronics Show with the opening keynote on Wednesday. At CES 2010, Ballmer used his keynote to show off an HP tablet computer, which failed to (re)ignite the tablet revolution. (Apple did that later in the month when it announced the iPad).
Ballmer is expected to use the keynote at CES 2011 to introduce an entire range of tablet computers running Windows 7. Ballmer will have devices on hand from Samsung, Dell, and other manufacturers. What version of Windows 7 might appear on these devices is unknown. Nor is how users will interact with them. (Microsoft's first stab at tablets required an active digitizer.) Reports in late December suggested that Microsoft is working on a new version of Windows that will be compatible with the ARM CPU architecture. This would be a radical shift in strategy for Microsoft. The real question is whether Microsoft can actually deliver on whatever Ballmer announces.
The Sandy Bridge Over River Brazos
On the laptop front, we can expect to see lots of new hardware with the latest chips from Intel and AMD. Intel's Sandy Bridge processors (think next-gen Core i3/i5/i7) are on deck at nearly every major notebook maker. The Sandy Bridge platform may not be low-cost, but it mates processing grunt with an embedded graphics processor. This will up Intel's video and game performance ratings by leagues.
As for AMD, its low-cost powerhouse Brazos platform marries a CPU with a GPU to create an APU (accelerated processing unit). The goal with Brazos, according to AMD, is to drop power consumption while maintaining high-level performance -- at a low cost. With Brazos on board, laptop makers should be able to churn out inexpensive laptops that are more capable in the video department (especially of the 1080p variety).
Laptop makers would be remiss to ignore the appeal of these platforms in products announced at CES.
If there's been one trend growing throughout 2010, it's the rise of the budget smartphone -- devices that don't cost a lot at the cash register, but still require a data plan. Most of those launched to-date run Google's Android platform. This trend will continue well into 2011. Expect manufacturers such as LG, Samsung, and HTC continue to develop low-cost smartphones that will sell for between $50 and $99.
There will also be plenty of high-end smartphones. The degree of evolution in the smartphone space is faster than in most other industries. Handset makers have to do their best to make sure their hardware stands out. Android handsets will lead the way with 8- to 12-megapixel cameras, 4G (WiMax, LTE, HSPA+), high-resolution screens, and awe-inspiring multimedia capabilities.
Microsoft is on deck to show off its next round of Windows Phone 7 devices, though it is possible Microsoft will wait until later in 2011. Nokia and Palm will both be largely silent. Neither has a press conference scheduled, and neither appears to be ready to field new smartphones at CES this year.
Is it going to happen? Not at CES. Apple traditionally stays away from large events such as the Consumer Electronics Show. It announced the original iPhone at Macworld in 2007, which was held at the same time as CES. It announced the iPad at a separate event, too.
If Apple is making an iPhone for Verizon Wireless, I'd expect Apple to pull a stunt whereby it announces the device a day or two before the show kicks off. That way, it will overshadow every other announcement and/or development that takes place during CES. Verizon has a keynote scheduled for Thursday (in addition to its press conference). Perhaps Steve Jobs will give Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg some ammunition to use during that keynote.
Yes, despite the public's lukewarm reaction to 3D televisions, manufacturers such as Samsung, Panasonic, Toshiba, and LG will continue to show off absurdly large TVs with 3D features built in. Perhaps the only real area of interest regarding 3D TVs will be how manufacturers handle the glasses problem. Some 3D TVs require glasses, others don't, and yet others will require (or offer) custom-designed glasses to make the 3D effects jump to life. This industry still has a lot of growing to do -- both as far as the technology itself is concerned, and its rate of adoption. Can 2011 be the year consumers "get" 3D TV?
Three dimensions may also start to appear on devices as small as smartphones. Manufacturers such as Sharp have showcased 3D LCD designs that don't require glasses in extremely small sizes.
Both Audi and Ford have keynotes at CES this year. Rupert Stadler, Chairman of the Board of Management of Audi, is speaking on Thursday. According to Audi, he will use his presentation to demonstrate infotainment, driver assistance systems, efficiency technologies, and communications networks. Audi's A8 already includes a mobile hotspot feature for wireless broadband access. Audi will likely be pushing the connected-car envelope even further.
Ford has been adding technology to its cars at an alarming rate. A handful of its models already take advantage of Microsoft's SYNC product to aid drivers in selecting features and functions of their car. Cars will only continue to add tech over time, including mobile broadband, and more