With some 3,000 exhibitors and 20,000 products spanning 1.87-million square feet of showroom space, the world's biggest electronics spectacle – the annual International Consumer Electronics Show – kicks off in Las Vegas this week. Here are four product areas that are already causing a stir.
1. Mobile-device accessories, especially for the iPhone 5
For all the talk about CES as a stage for major new product launches, the show is actually far more of a commodity-focused event. Hundreds upon hundreds of stalls at the sprawling conference are dedicated to protective cases, portable speakers and myriad peripherals.
This year, however, the onslaught of new accessories is particularly noticeable, in large part because of a company that doesn't even have a presence at CES.
Last year, when Apple Inc. announced the iPhone 5, the company changed the connector port built into the device. That means that iPhone 5 units are no longer compatible with the traditional Apple connectors (without an adapter). As a result, virtually every iPhone accessories maker in the world began updating their product lines. That's clearly evident at this year's CES, with countless new iPhone docks and peripherals on display.
2. "Ultra" high-definition televisions
Every few years, the world's biggest tech manufacturers try to jump-start TV sales by introducing a new format for the living room's most expensive gadget. Some formats, such as the original HD TV, proved hugely successful, while others (most notably 3-D TV) did not. This year , just as "smart" Internet-connected TVs are starting to make inroads with consumers, manufacturers are showing off so-called UHD TVs, which were previously called 4K. UHD has roughly four times the resolution of regular HD content – and, so far, is much more expensive. Sony Corp., Toshiba Corp. and others have already released UHD TVs, but at astronomical price tags that can hover around the $25,000 mark. The problem is that it's difficult to see the difference in resolution between UHD and run-of-the-mill HD on all but the most massive TVs. As such, there are a number of 100-inch-and-bigger TVs on display at CES this year. But given the price, it'll probably be a few years before regular people are buying these things.
3. 3-D (but this time it's not 3-D television)
By most accounts, the furious effort by big tech companies to push 3-D TVs at the last few CES conferences hasn't worked out too well. But quietly, 3-D technology is making a comeback at this year's CES, albeit not in TV form. A very small number of companies, including firms such as 3D Systems, are showing off consumer 3-D printers, which can print physical objects in plastic and other materials based on digital blueprints. 3-D companies are also looking at opportunities to bring the technology to smartphones, as a growing number of those devices can now be used to create 3-D content. It's unlikely that 3-D printers are going to become a huge consumer product category any time soon. But among all the product types on display here, 3-D printers appear to have made the biggest leap in garnering the public's attention compared with last year's show.
4. The biggest brand name: Samsung
Fresh off launching the first smartphone to truly challenge the iPhone last year, Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd. is poised to generate the most buzz at this year's CES. The South Korean conglomerate is showing off everything from phones to tablets to TVs, and competing with the show's biggest names, such as Sony and LG. Besides its momentum from last year, Samsung can take advantage of another catalyst this year – Microsoft Corp.'s greatly reduced presence at CES. For years, the Windows-maker has been the biggest name at the show, kicking off the event with the annual keynote. This year, however, Microsoft has ditched the keynote, leaving companies such as Samsung and Panasonic Corp. to take the stage. With Google Inc. and Apple traditionally avoiding CES, and with Research In Motion Ltd. still a month away from its big product launch of 2013, public attention is up for grabs at this year's CES, particularly in the mobile sector.