US Consumer Tech Show To Feature Netbooks, Tablets, And 3D

Mobility

eWEEK picks out some of trends to expect among the gadgets and devices on display at The Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas

When the Consumer Electronics Show kicks off in Las Vegas on 7 Jan, technology companies large and small will crowd into the Las Vegas Convention Center and auxiliary sites to show off their latest wares.

With about 110,000 attendees and nearly 3,000 exhibitors, it’s fair to say the three-day event will be epic. Keynote addresses will be given by Intel President Paul Otellini, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer, and Ford President and CEO Alan Mulally.

The following are some of the broader trends to expect at the show:

3D attempts to enter the mainstream
Three-dimensional video is apparently, not just for movie theaters anymore; if the number of companies announcing 3D-capable screens at CES is any indication, manufacturers will be pushing 3D for home and office use throughout 2010 and beyond.

“There are lots of geographies where you see [the technology] coming,” Accenture analyst Jean Laurent Poitou said in a Jan. 4 interview with eWEEK, suggesting that manufacturers would introduce a slew of 3D products. “There’s [a lot] of [3D] content being developed for the next 12 to 18 months.”

Throughout 2009, a number of hardware manufacturers have been demonstrating 3D screens at conventions and product rollouts. Before the Windows 7 launch on 22 Oct. in New York, for example, Acer demonstrated a range of 3D-capable PCs for an eWEEK reporter; during the event itself, media was invited to play “Batman: Arkham Asylum” on a 3D widescreen.

But the number of manufacturers debuting 3D wares may only increase in 2010. In a Jan. 4 Smarter Technology article, R. Colin Johnson suggested that Panasonic, Mitsubishi, LG Electronics and Samsung will be among the companies debuting 3D televisions at CES. At the same time, the Blu-ray Disc Association has “drafted 3D extensions that maintain backward compatibility by allowing existing Blu-ray drives to play 3D discs in conventional 2D format,” and the HDMI (high-definition multimedia interface) licensing group has drafted new specifications permitting 3D signals to be broadcast over existing HDMI cables.

If companies are gearing up for a possible surge of interest in 3D, however, there are also some warning signs that the technology could be more fad than trend. Johnson cited a subset of cinema-goers experiencing nausea while watching James Cameron’s “Avatar” in 3D, and at least one manufacturer—Philips—decided to shut down its 3D television development.

Tablet PCs
Despite Apple’s refusal to confirm any stories that it intends to produce a tablet PC in 2010, the rumors about the device have reached the point where the biggest surprise, frankly, would be the company announcing that it has no intention of manufacturing what has been variously referred to by outsiders as the “iSlate” or “iTablet.”

Those rumors currently suggest that Apple has rented the stage at Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco at the end of January, and will likely debut the tablet then. Whether or not that will take place, it is definite that other companies are using CES to announce their own multitouch tablet PCs for the coming year.

On 4 Jan, embedded semiconductor manufacturer Freescale Semiconductor announced that it would debut a 7-inch touch-screen tablet PC at CES, priced at less than $200 and powered by Freescale’s i.MX515 processor incorporating ARM Cortex-A8 technology. The tablet features Wi-Fi and Bluetooth wireless connectivity, 512MB memory, USB 2.0 and USB mini ports, 4GB to 64GB of internal storage and a 3-megapixel camera with video recording.

In addition, Smarthouse reports that HTC could launch a tablet PC running the Google Android operating system, claiming that “an Android-based device … is set to be shown privately to core HTC customers at the CES Show.” This tablet will supposedly “incorporate new Qualcomm processors, touch technology and new software from Adobe.”

CES will also see functionality introduced in the area of e-readers. Futurist Ray Kurzweil plans to use the event to roll out Blio, an application that supposedly allows e-books to be read on any device with an operating system, including netbooks, laptops, tablet PCs and smartphones.

“Unlike any other system on the market, this platform will display books just as they were printed with the same colors, fonts and layouts, and it will support full media functionality such as graphics, video, games and Web links,” a Blio PR representative wrote in an e-mail to eWEEK, adding that the application will be on display at the Microsoft booth.

Netbooks
Netbooks represented a double-edged sword for the PC manufacturing industry in 2009. On one hand, they were the one surefire seller in a year where PC sales otherwise declined; however, ultracheap devices translates into low margins for manufacturers.

The tech industry will try to solve this issue in two ways, both of which will likely be visible at CES. First, it will continue to offer netbooks—although the newer devices may be even more stripped down than in the past; think a smartphone with a larger screen and keyboard and no receiver, and you have the idea.

Second, manufacturers will be offering netbooks with larger screens and more powerful processors at a higher price point. One example is Lenovo’s ThinkPad X100e, powered by AMD Athlon Neo single- or dual-core processors or else the Turion dual-core processor, and being offered with an 11.6-inch high-definition display for less than $500.

Netbooks will also be refined and made more robust, as evidenced by new offerings from Samsung. The N210, N220, N150 and NB30 will offer 10.1-inch displays, as well as applications that speed Web connectivity.

But at least some of the focus will be on devices that offer higher margins. In summer, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer suggested that “ultrathins,” which offer more powerful computing and higher cost along with a netbook’s portability, would be something that Microsoft would push for along with its manufacturers. Whether such a concerted effort can be made to boost hardware and software margins, given the fragmented nature of the PC marketplace, remains to be seen.


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