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Smart TV product launches set to grab trade show spotlight

The technology industry's biggest annual event kicks off Tuesday with a carnival-like atmosphere and an uncertain future.

With more than 2,700 companies exhibiting across some 1.85 million square feet of show space in the Las Vegas Convention Center and spilling out into the hotels on the strip, this year's Consumer Electronics Show is the second-largest in history, after the 2008 expo.

But this will also be the last time Microsoft Corp.'s CEO will present the show-opening keynote speech at CES. Microsoft will still continue to have a massive booth on the floor, but will not headline the event in the same way it has for years.

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On the floor, there are notable absences. The biggest names in technology, including Apple Inc., Google Inc. and Facebook, have very little presence. That's in part because CES has traditionally been a hardware-focused show, thus having less appeal to software firms such as Google.

But the largest tech companies are also inclined to avoid sharing the spotlight with several thousand other firms when they make their biggest announcements of the year. Apple tends to produce all its launch events in-house, and it appears Microsoft has also tired of having to force its product road map to fit in with the CES schedule; the company already times many of its biggest gaming-related announcements to coincide with that industry's biggest annual event, the Electronic Entertainment Expo.

However the Consumer Electronics Association, which runs CES, argues that every major tech company has a presence in Vegas this year, even if that presence only entails sending "significant delegations" to conduct meetings during the show's run.

As has been the case during every CES in recent memory, this year's show will bring a deluge of product announcements – about 20,000 of them, by the CEA's count. However the two areas on which the industry is likely to focus are smartphones and so-called smart, or Internet-connected, televisions.

Because Apple has a low profile at CES, the show is prime ground for its competitors to display their new devices. There will likely be dozens of new models running on Google's Android operating system, which is finally starting to gain ground on the iPhone in the high end of the market (even though Apple still makes a much bigger profit on its smartphones than do any of its competitors).

In addition to Android phones, Microsoft is likely to showcase some of the newer devices running on its own operating system, Windows Phone. Perhaps the most anticipated of those phones is the Lumia 900 from Nokia, Microsoft's closest partner in the mobile space. The Lumia 900 is poised to be the benchmark for high-end Windows phones, and showgoers' reaction to the device will go a long way toward predicting whether Microsoft can finally gain some ground in the smartphone space.

Some of the same players competing in the smartphone market, such as Sony Corp., will also be vying for a piece of the smart-TV market.

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According to a forecast by research firm Informa Telecoms & Media, smart TVs will account for about 43 per cent of all sets purchased by 2016.

Companies have pushed the concept of Internet-based living room entertainment at previous CES events, but consumers have been reluctant to jump on the bandwagon, in part because new televisions tend to be major purchases.

This year, a number of companies will push smart TVs powered by Google's Android software. PC-maker Lenovo, for example, will enter the TV market for the first time with such a device.

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