CES 2010 Preview: 5 Trends to Watch

ces-2010-5-trendsChristmas for us doesn’t come on December 25th. It’s the start of the Consumer Electronics Show, a veritable Shangri-La for gadget geeks held each year in Las Vegas. This time out we’ll have eight LAPTOP editors and writers scouring the show floor for the hottest new notebooks, netbooks, smart phones, apps, cameras, GPS, Wi-Fi gear, and more. Coverage begins January 3rd, and we’ll announce the top picks for our Best of CES Awards on January 8th at high noon. What trends do we expect to see this year? Here’s a quick preview.

Tablet Fever

According to recent news, Apple may unveil its rumored iPad or iTablet, but in the meantime, there companies large and small cashing in on rising consumer interest in the category. We’ve already gone hands on with the 12-inch JooJoo Tablet, and now the 7-inch ICD Ultra (running Android and powered by Nvidia’s Tegra T20 chip) has broken cover, which we hope to go hands on with at the show. We fully expect more tablets to launch at CES, and what we’re most interested in is not their guts, but the software and user interfaces that they’ll be using and how well they handle data input. A tablet that can play 1080p video is pretty worthless if it’s a bother to use it.

Smartbooks vs. Netbooks

While we certainly expect more netbooks to debut at CES 2010 equipped with Atom’s new N450 processor, we don’t expect those machines to generate half as much buzz as so-called smartbooks. But there’s a difference between buzz and sales. On the plus side, the smartbooks we expect to see at CES are razor thin (seriously, they make your typical ASUS Eee PC look bloated). They also start up instantly, have integrated 3G, and should be able to run close to all day on a charge. We’re just not sure yet where smartbooks fit in between increasingly powerful smart phones and netbooks that now offer even longer battery life. We’re also not sure if consumers are ready for desktop Linux, regardless of how user friendly the UI is.

eReader Avalanche

First there was the Kindle, but by the time CES is over there could be at least a half dozen formidable competitors for the category leader. Plastic Logic will finally take the wraps off of its Que proReader, which is targeting mobile professionals with its size (8.5 x 11.0 inches) and Office doc and PDF support. Entourage hopes to entice the younger crowd and students with its dual-screened eDGe device, which has an E-Ink display on one side and an Android-based tablet on the other. Sony just started shipping its Daily Edition device, which has a 7-inch touchscreen and free 3G from AT&T for downloading books and newspapers. Then you have the Skiff, a collaboration between Sprint and Hearst that will focus on magazines and newspapers. Will one of these devices take home our Best of CES Award? Or could a still-unknown player shake things up? Stay tuned.

From PC to TV, No Cable Required

I think most of us like the idea of using our laptop to broadcast whatever we’re watching to our big-screen TV, whether it’s Hulu, YouTube, or family videos. Why bother with an HDMI cable if you don’t have to? At CES I expect at least three different approaches to compete, all attempting to cut that cord while delivering high-def video quality. Wireless USB has been tried before with mixed results, but proponents of this technology are giving it another go. Then there’s WHDI, or wireless home digital interface, which is backed by companies like Amimon (who we’ll be meeting with at the show). In November the company announced WHDI modules for the notebook market, and we expect to see some cool demos at CES, hopefully on hardware that will be shipping soon. There’s yet another solution that I can’t tell you much about yet, other than the fact that I’ve seen it and it works.

Can Palm (or Anything) Stop Android?

With rumors swirling that Google is making its own phone, the Nexus One, we hope that it is coming to market and that HTC will show us one at CES. But even if this device is just for developers to play with, there’s no denying that Android as a platform has the most mindshare right now, which could very well translate into the most market share come next year. Palm has a press conference scheduled during the show, and I’m encouraged by reports that we’ll see a so-called Palm Pre Plus for Verizon Wireless. I also anticipate Palm to announce an upgrade to its OS that leverages the platform’s graphics capabilities, which could lead to not only better video playback (via full Flash) but hopefully more robust apps. With a 5 percent dip in sales from the first to second quarter in 2009, Palm needs to show that it’s still very much in the game.

Mark Spoonauer
Mark Spoonauer
Responsible for the editorial vision for Laptop Mag and Tom's Guide, Mark Spoonauer has been Editor in Chief of LAPTOP since 2003 and has covered technology for nearly 15 years. Mark speaks at key tech industry events and makes regular media appearances on CNBC, Fox and CNN. Mark was previously reviews editor at Mobile Computing, and his work has appeared in Wired, Popular Science and Inc.
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  1. Fanfoot Says:

    Agree completely that in several categories you list, most obviously the tablet and smartbook, the software will be key. Its unfortunate for most of the manufacturers that Google’s Chrome OS won’t be available until late next year, since it would likely solve the problem for many of these products. Do you really expect Asus to invest the kind of money into software needed to make a tablet viable? I don’t. I think they’ll do just enough to scrape by, shipping some kind of Linux with a device driver or two and maybe some wonky finger-friendly front end as well as a stylus (which you shouldn’t need) when that fails you and you have to pick at tiny little icons that weren’t designed for touch. Both of these could probably get by with just a browser, media playback and maybe an app store, and Chrome OS would give them that cache right away.

    Also the tablet is going to have to be very carefully balanced. Not too heavy (if the display is too big it will need a heavy battery), yet not too small or low rez. A responsive touch screen to make up for the size/resolution, like the iPhone does. Likely going to be lots of mis-hits in this space before somebody does it right (if).

    Smartbooks are going to have a hard time. There are already netbooks from respected manufacturers are very low prices ($250 say) and many netbooks already have battery life that is longer than people really need it to be. So the umbrella smartbooks are going to try to fly under is pretty low already. We’ll see how these do. If the Tegra CPU isn’t extremely low cost (not nVidia’s forte, at least my guess), it won’t go. Ditto battery life–if the display takes most of the power can the lower-power CPU really change the battery life equation that much? Especially with Pineview offering 20% increments over Atom’s already great battery life? I don’t know if these things have a chance…

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