The Consumer Electronics Show (CES) proved to be a lot more vibrant than I expected. The buzz going in was that everything was “me, too,” and nothing innovative would be being shown. Instead, the press conferences jumped the gun and were early by a day, and the show itself was mobbed. It turned out to be a banner year for product introductions and excitement.
Infrastructure was near frozen at several points. Of note was a “chemical spill” (likely petroleum) on North Las Vegas Boulevard, that had the cops sealing off the place for an hour at midday the first full official day.
Traffic stopped dead the length of the Boulevard to Convention Way. Every crevasse and cornice was filled with people. As a results, the bike rental was even more handy than usual this year. Its characteristics shine when everything else is extra screwed up. Diverted to the south, I trundled between ranks of idling cars, dodging the cracked pavement from construction, up Paradise to the Convention Center.
I did not make all of my 29 appointments. Minutes were lost, as they always are, to unexpected delays, and some meetings ran long out of sheer interestingness.
The collision of architectures continues unabated, with ARM gaining ground in mobility. Intel tablets were shown, as were Windows Phone 7 phones and Windows 7 tablets. But add clearly went to the other camp, the ARM collective, primarily Qualcomm, Freescale, a rising nVidia, and Apple (while we’re at it), with Google operating systems of preference.
AMD showed its much-talked-about Fusion chips, designed for systems one notch up the scale in terms of performance and power use. HP, which has its mobility — read: tablet — announcement next month, was notably silent on that point, but made a show of its Window/x86 lines across desktop and portable form factors in both consumer and commercial segments.
HP will enjoy the relative news silence of February to reveal its wider plans for WebOS, the platform it acquired with Palm. Blackberry and RIM were also in evidence in the tablet space.
Motorola Mobility, the consumer side of the just-split mother company, scored best gadget with its Xoom. CNet editors gave the device, which features a 10.1” screen and Google’s soon-to-be-released Honeycomb version of the Android OS, the thumbs up.
Although tabletry took the foreground, other technologies were also in ferment. What we used to call “telemetry,” basically computers in cars for purposes other than running them, has come of age. Basically, it’s about navigation and audio for the front seat and multimedia for the back. Traditional nav vendors like Garmin and Magellan showed their latest, including 3D maps. But actual auto companies — such as Ford, GM, and Audi — were also out in force.
TVs, always a staple of the show, were even more incredible this year, if such a thing is possible.
The most noticeable enhancement was 3D, which still requires those funny glasses, except for Toshiba’s version, which transmits actual 3D imaging to a single person sitting right in front of the monitor.
Not so great for family viewing, but, hey, no glasses!
Meanwhile, it’s still not clear whether anybody other than hard core gamers actually wants to view material in 3D. But that hasn’t stopped the industry from rabid promotion of the feature. Other, less noticeable improvements came in the form of larger, thinner, denser, richer screens and further tinkering with the idea of integrating traditional TV programming with Internet video. Cisco, off the show floor, was promoting its solution for service providers, which smoothly pulls together paid and free programming, video on demand, videoconferencing, and home-brew video, all in a neat, monetizable package. The consumer unit plugs right into your set-top box.
The inexorable march of 4G communications continued unabated. Verizon unveiled its aggressive plan to cover 2/3 of the U.S. population with 4G LTE by mid-2012. 4G-ready handsets also debuted at the show, including the Thunderbolt from HTC, the Samsung Inspiration,Motorola’s Droid Bionic, and the LG Revolution. And, of course, no space can go unchallenged. So, the WiMAX version of next-generation communications technology, supported by Intel, Clearwire, and others, was also in evidence.
As the rest of 2011 unfolds, we on the sidelines will be treated to a battle royal in the consumer mobility space, as vendors at all levels — silicon designers and fabricators, operating system suppliers, communications technology providers, carriers, and device makers — duke it out for supremacy.