Last year’s CES saw an invasion of mobile converged devices. With smartphone launches spurred by the introduction of Verizon’s LTE network (and joined by HSPA+ expansion by AT&T and T-Mobile) and a wall’s worth of tablets seeking to head off the iPad 2, it seemed as though consumer electronics were tied to the state of the slate.
A growing part of it is, of course, and CES 2012 did see a number of tablet and smartphone announcements such as the Lenovo IdeaTab S2 that tweaks the ASUS Transformer implementation of a tablet connecting to a dockable keyboard. But, particularly when compared to last year, the focus of CES 2012 was much more squarely in established device categories.
TV. I’ve long said that 3D and connectivity were in some ways sideshows that TV manufacturers were trotting out until they could get to that terra firma of marketing better picture quality, and CES 2012 marked the beginning of the journey home with LG and Samsung showing off 55” OLED TVs and Sony unveiling plans to use a competitive technology dubbed Crystal LED. Of course, these new display technologies aren’t mutually exclusive to either 3D (which the offerings from LG and Samsung support) or connectivity. Indeed, one of the big TV focal points for Samsung was the idea of Smart TV Evolution, in which the “computing” part of the set, including components such as the processor, can be swapped out every year to keep up with the latest advances. This essentially borrows from the old idea of desktop CPU and RAM upgrades, but in the connected AV space.
Ultrabooks. The TV was not the only high-grossing holiday favorite to receive a push forward. Intel drove ultrabooks hard at the show amid several promising debuts from Acer (the S5), HP (the Spectre), Dell (XPS 13), Samsung (the revamped Series 9) and the 360-degree rotating Lenovo Yoga, which was a finalist at the Last Gadget Standing competition for which I served as a judge. Intel vowed to justify its heavy investment in the ultrabook name – which it says will account for it largest marketing push since Centrino – by making ultrabooks stronger competitors to tablets using movement sensors, touch screens, speech, and Kinect-like gesture input. In what stands to be its last CES appearance for the foreseeable future, Microsoft was also showing off Windows 8. And while it didn’t have much news on that front, Intel’s push for touch on ultrabooks certainly provides stronger alignment between the two PC giants.
The Crossovers. One of the greater bits of evidence that the attention was on incumbent categories at this CES was the big crossover moves by Lenovo and Vizio. The former announced its first television (for China only, to start), an Android 4.0-infused dual core 55” IPS display with a motion controller, and an integrated Lenovo app store. Vizio, coming over from the TV side, showed off several ultra-thin notebooks and desktops. The desktops will include a wireless keyboard, trackpad, and even a remote control in the box. Curiously, the notebooks, while qualifying as ultrabooks under Intel’s definition won’t be marketed as such, as Vizio stakes its claims.
Imaging Products. This year looks like it will finally be the year of the connected camera (and camcorder!). Of course, over the years, we’ve seen Sony and Kodak experiment with Wi-Fi in their cameras but, following Samsung’s expansion of its Wi-Fi camera line, both venerable brands were back with Kodak bowing the EasyShare M750 and Sony realizing what was to be the next step for the Flip camcorder line with the Bloggie live Wi-Fi-enabled camcorder. The hot segment of POV action cameras also got in on the Wi-Fi excitement with GoPro showing off a new Wi-Fi add-on for its Hero 2 and GoBandit showing off a Wi-Fi action camcorder.
Home Networking. With so much emphasis on higher-speed networking devices, particularly TVs, in the home, it’s no surprise that home networking standards are being elevated as well. The next version of Wi-Fi, 802.11ac, should double throughput in the 5 GHz band while a new standard, 802.11ad, which brings forward the work of the WiGig Alliance, will allow for multi-gigabyte transfer of data over same-room distances as well as displaying uncompressed HD video from a tablet or smartphone up to an HDTV. Meanwhile, the standards battle for new “no new wires” technology continues, with HomePlug AV 2 citing the benefits of its field experience against the HomeGrid/G.hn camp.
Health and Fitness. Not everything was a step up for the familiar. CES continued to show that we are moving toward a future that can include self-monitoring of nearly every vital sign. No fewer than three connected scales were on display with pioneer Withings showing off a connected baby scale. Two of the more intriguing products were from Basis, which can measure a wide array of inputs such as perspiration levels and pulse to determine the kind of exercise one is engaging in, and Striiv, which combines several motivation techniques and challenges to keep its owners on the move. Striiv includes its own miniature touchscreen, further bucking the trend of using the smartphone as the input and output for a range of “appcessories.”
Cellular Enablement. While nearly all of the major “screens” at CES included Wi-Fi, there were also signs of cellular access seeping into older and newer categories. These included the PlayStation Vita, for which AT&T will be the carrier in its HSPA+ configuration due to ship next month. Seagate also showed off an LTE-enabled version of its GoFlex Satellite, which could help its cause as a Wi-Fi mobile hotspot and server for the vehicle. And Voxx International, steward of the Audiovox and a stable of other accessory brands, maintained the time is right to launch products that include monthly fees for cellular access. These include monitoring products for people (Care Connection) and vehicles (Car Connection) as well as the Tagg pet tracker, with which it is working with Qualcomm. Sprint is the Voxx’ carrier partner for its new connected products.
Of course, even with all this activity among established and emerging device categories, this should still be a year that sees many impressive smartphone introductions. Here, though, CES must compete with two other debut stages, including CTIA, which has been pushed back to allow a bit more breathing room for handset companies, and Mobile World Congress, coming up next month in Barcelona. These two shows’ focus should provide help complete the picture of what the major consumer device lineup looks like for the year.