The most important technology showcase in the world kicks off Thursday in Las Vegas, as somewhere between 100,000 and 130,000 people descend on Sin City for the annual Consumer Electronics Show. More than 2,500 companies from around the world will exhibit everything from computer chips to car stereos.
The sheer size of the event makes it almost impossible to cover everything that takes place during the conference, let alone determine what CES highlights the tech world will still be interested in at the end of 2011. "It's like standing in front of Niagara Falls and trying to inspect the individual water molecules," Deloitte Canada technology analyst Duncan Stewart says.
Still, most of the attention heading into this year's show is on tablet computers, as numerous companies try to steal a piece of the market from Apple Inc.'s dominant iPad. However, a number of other products are slowly gaining traction, positioning the tech industry for a whole host of new revenue streams. Here are the items that are expected to grab most of the attention in Vegas:
There's no shortage of companies unveiling tablets this week. Last year, the iPad had yet to make an impact on the marketplace, and electronic book readers were still seen as a quickly growing product category. This year, however, both big and small players will focus on tablets. CES is expected to be a coming-out party for the latest version of Google's Android mobile operating system, codenamed Honeycomb. This version was specifically designed for tablets. Hewlett-Packard Co. and HTC Corp. are also expected to release handheld computers, but may wait until after the CES crush to do so. In addition, Research In Motion Ltd., which usually makes its announcements at standalone events, may drop a few more hints about the final version of the PlayBook tablet, expected to hit stores this year. Indeed, Apple may choose to do the same, as the second generation of the iPad is also expected to come out in the next few months.
Last year, hoping to capitalize on the success of the blockbuster movie Avatar, virtually every major TV maker in the world came to CES with a 3-D television to show off. A year later, the results in the consumer market have been less than impressive. Consumers have complained about everything from the bulkiness of 3-D glasses to the lack of content available for the format. There's no doubt the same big tech firms will push 3-D TVs again this year, but they will likely make a greater effort to address those concerns. In addition, Internet-enabled TVs will likely also take up a large space on the showroom floor, as the industry pushes TVs that can download content seamlessly from a variety of sources.
The definition of electronics at CES is constantly expanding. Companies such as Taser International, the stun gun maker, have previously set up shop on the exhibition floor. This year, however, there seems to be a growing focus on the integration of technology in product categories that haven't traditionally fallen under the tech industry banner. Two of the keynote speeches this year are to be given by the heads of Audi AG and Ford Motor Co. The decision to give two car companies such prominent billing indicates a growing interest within the tech industry to tap into the market for cars and other products that are quickly becoming as connected as the office.
Health and fitness
For the past couple of years, a cottage industry has sprung up around personal analytics - the process of collecting health and exercise data, such as heart rates and jogging speeds. This year, myriad new startups will head to CES to show off software and hardware that helps fitness buffs collect such information on their smart phones and tablets. In addition, a number of firms are using smart phone apps as a new distribution mechanism for workout routines, which are automatically sent to users' devices, much the same way podcasts are.