Hot Products at 2011 CES: Tablets, Apps and Mobile Devices

The real story in televisions will be apps

Dozens of new tablets will make their debut

CES 2010 had thousands of items on the show floor, but at the end of the day, it was about 3D TV. The show marked the coming out party for the technology—and pretty much everything else was caught in its wake.

The Samsung Galaxy Tab
The Samsung Galaxy Tab

This year, though, there’s not likely to be a theme that’s quite so dominant, which will give other products a chance to shine.

While perhaps not as super secretive as other trade shows, manufacturers tend to avoid talking about their CES lineups before the show. (To do so could cause confusion among holiday shoppers.) But there are already some safe bets on what we’ll be seeing in the Las Vegas Convention Center this year—and they’ll be enough to keep gadget-hounds happy for some time.

The biggest news could come from the mobile space. Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg will the show’s opening day keynote, where he is expected to introduce several new phones for the company’s 4G service, though the long-rumored iPhone for Verizon is unlikely to make an appearance.

Google partners, meanwhile, are expected to begin showing devices using “Honeycomb”—the code name for the latest version of the Android operating system—this one specifically designed for tablet computers.

It’s worth inserting a caveat that before you pull out your wallet and pre-order anything you hear about at CES, it’s wise wait until it has a solid launch date. The exhibition, in many ways, is like the Detroit Auto Show. Sometimes, the coolest stuff on display never moves past the concept phase.

CES 2011 - Your Digital Life - A CNBC Special Report
CES 2011 - Your Digital Life - A CNBC Special Report

For example, last year, Toshiba turned heads with the Cell TV—an HD set equipped with the processing power of a PlayStation 3 and a built-in hard drive. It turned out to be vaporware. Ditto the “smartbook” computers and dozens of eReaders that so many manufacturers were hawking.

Tablet PCs have the biggest chance at falling into that black hole this year. Spurred on by the overwhelming success of the Apple iPad, dozens of new tablets will make their debut at the show. The question is: How many will make it to retail after Apple unveils the iPad 2 in 2011? (Apple does not participate in the CES.)

Microsoft is expected to show several Windows-friendly models during CEO Steve Ballmer’s annual keynote, as it did last year. Expect, also, to see Research in Motion take the wraps off of its Blackberry Playbook. Introduced in late September, the tablet by the BlackBerry manufacturer could pose a threat to Apple’s dominance, particularly in the business environment.

RIM is expected to reveal launch details of the smaller and lighter tablet at the show, including which carriers will carry it.

Other companies that will roll out tablets include Asus and Toshiba, which will likely debut three models: one for Android, one for Windows 7 and one using Google’s Chrome OS.

As it did last year, 3D TV will have a central (though less prominent) role at the show, with second-generation machines coming out. An influx of 3D cameras and camcorders will be on display as well, as the technology expands its reach.

In the first generation of sets, 3D was only found on high-end sets. This year, it will be available on more affordable sets, and passive 3D (which still requires glasses, but not the bulky, battery-operated ones used in current sets) will also likely be shown.

The real story in televisions, in fact, likely will have nothing to do with 3D abilities. The focus instead will be on apps.

TVs that have Internet accessibility are nothing new. They’ve been around for a few years. But they’re getting more and more entertainment apps. Netflix streaming is built into many new TVs. And at CES 2010, look for Hulu Plus to be built-in to new sets, as well as the Wal-Mart-owned Vudu streaming service.

The message of the apps is clear: Even if you can’t find anything to watch on the hundreds of channels your cable or satellite provider offers, there will still always be something good on your TV.

Look for CNBC's in-depth coverage of CES 2011 online and on-air. Julia Boorstinwill report from the show beginning Wednesday, January 5 and Maria Bartiromo will anchor "Closing Bell" from CES on Thursday and Friday, January 6 and 7, 3-5pm ET.