It’s quite a challenge to add to the plethora of CES 2011 blogs. This post puts together some of my key observations. I didn’t touch on everything I saw and might have even missed key insights, so it’s not “the definitive” guide to anything CES. The show is huge and there were over 140,000 people there, so it wasn’t easy to catch all the action. But I did see a lot, and gain some insight along the way:
A Year in Review
Android tide rising
It’s interesting to see what has changed since CES 2010, which was also called “the second coming” for Android. Google Nexus One was just announced Jan 5, 2010, moments before CES 2010. While there were a few devices announced to support Android at CES 2010, relatively few were available for closer inspection. CES 2011 had tens of Android phones and quite a few Android tablets. 2010 was a terrific year for Android and towards the end of it, Android passed iOS in units sold. If CES 2011 is any predictor, this trend will continue into 2011.
Smartphones become Superphones
The smartphone is far more than a mobile phone, of course. They are media players, video recorders, capable web browsers, application platforms and much more. However, the superphones move beyond that and become a centerpiece of the digital life. A superphone could be a mobile hotspot (where the broadband connectivity would be 3G or above), can be docked and become a laptop or a media center, and can be the main interaction device one carries for all digital purposes. While there were several other dual-core 1GHz powerful devices, the Motorola Atrix 4G is probably the best demonstration of these superphones. It’s not yet clear how consumers and business users are reacting to this and whether one needs lots of extra batteries to make it through the day, but it’s going to be interesting to track these during 2011 and beyond.
The Apple iPad clearly revived this sector. While the iPad that was not exhibited at the show per se, it was seen everywhere. The iPad now controls every piece of consumer electronics and home automation and can be converted into a sort-of netbook with cases that include Bluetooth keyboards such as ZAGGmate. While at CES 2010 we already saw plenty of tablets, and almost all ran Windows. Now, most of them run Android. Now it’s Gingerbread (Android 2.3) or Froyo (Android 2.2) and soon they’ll all be running Honeycomb (Android 3.0, re-designed for tablets). The best was probably the Motorola Xoom 10” tablet. A few were dual boot (Windows + Android). The Samsung Galaxy Tab that has done well since its launch didn’t seem nearly as slick as the iPad upon use.
Blackberry showcased their PlayBook (frankly, I think this is the most ridiculous product name one could choose for a business-oriented tablet). CNET has a good wrap-up for the tablets at CES. 2011 will likely be a great year for this revived form factor.
3D State of the Nation
CES 2010 was all about 3D. While at CES 2011 all manufacturers continue to push 3D, I didn’t think there’s not much new in that regard (unless you consider stylized and prescription 3D eyewear as major developments). I did see a few more prototype demos of non-glasses 3D and even one shipping model. However, none of these seem ready for primetime except the ones designed exclusively for one viewer in mind on rather small displays, such as the Nintendo 3DS or some 3D camcorders or even some laptops. In terms of technology adoption pace, 3D in the home is still being adopted faster than HD did at the time, but not as fast as some other recent technology adoptions (e.g. iPad). Most experts agree that the cumbersome glasses will still be required in the next few years. Where 3D will have an impact is surely going to be in gaming. 3D makes hard-core gaming much more immersive. Folks that invest a lot in their gaming platforms will certainly consider a 3D setup – either for their PC or for a gaming console.
Net-connected / Smart TVs
CES 2010 saw all TV manufacturers with models that connected to the net. Overall, these actually sold better than 3D in 2010. At CES 2011, the TVs continue to get smarter and the network continues to get closer to the TV and all of the manufacturers stepped up their game. LG now offers an “upgrade” box that brings the net-connected/smart capabilities as an adjunct box rather than just in the TV. This brings them in competition with the Apple TV and Google TV (still on hold for a bit more). Today, there are 5 main ways to connect the net experience and the TV: 1) On the TV itself; 2) The net-connected BluRay/DVD player; 3) The Pay-TV provided Set Top Box (STB); 4) The gaming console (e.g. Xbox 360 or PS3); 5) A new dedicated box (e.g. Boxee, Roku, Apple TV, etc.). As the sales and activation figures of 2010 show, the consumer clearly wants to merge these experiences. The question remains, however, which of these 5 options will be most successful over time. I suggested previously that the pay TV providers might still have a chance to avoid the disruptive impact of over the top (OTT). At CES 2011, I found little or no evidence they are moving fast enough. Service providers must take action sooner rather than later unless they want to face the true disruptive impact of OTT!
Boxee had some nice announcements – they closed a deal with CBS to Vudu to stream OTT video, their D-Link box is out, and two others are offering software for their own devices as OEM (Iomega and ViewSonic). Boxee also previewed their iPad app to control the device (actually, almost everybody had an iOS app device control their media either previewed at the show or already shipping).
We all realize that computing is becoming more mobile than ever, from the computing power in our pocket (on the smartphone) to the laptop, netbook, and more recently, the tablet. 2009 was the year of the Netbook. 2010 was the year of the Tablet (dominated by the iPad). An interesting form factor at CES 2011 was the convertible. Samsung showcased the Samsung PC7 – a netbook and tablet in one, running Windows 7 and multi-touch. Very cool slide out to transform between the two. The Motrola Atrix 4G and its laptop dock is also a great convertible. Dell’s Inspirion Duo also was a netbook-tablet convertible, but not as cool as the Samsung. If you’re curious about the rest, there are plenty more – see here.
Other convertibles / hybrids included foldable tablets or ones that had a tablet and an eReader – the eReader variety are cute, but I doubt they’ll take off.
At CES 2010 there were tens of eReaders in all shapes and sizes from dozens of manufacturers. This has largely been replaced by tablets at CES 2011. The leading eReaders are now Amazon Kindle, B&N Nook, and Sony Reader. The rest are niche players – for instance, becoming toys for kids, pre-loaded with thousands of children books, and the likes. The future of color eInk and alternative display technologies didn’t look to me to be promising.
From what I saw, color eInk looks terrible – worse than monochrome. It might be the specific eReader, but I couldn’t tell. Mirasol display by Qualcomm was also very weak, IMHO. I didn’t get a chance to see Pixel Qi, the only other leading contender. Also, the plethora of tablets, including low-cost options, will make the eReader market smaller and less lucrative. As I wrote earlier, I continue to believe most of the money in the eReaders market is actually in the eBooks – and that’s why we see Amazon and B&N as the key players.
Check out the pictures I snapped of color eInk and Mirasol to see for yourself how bad these are.
A few technologies might not yet be ready for primetime, but I thought they were cool enough to mention:
Wireless data connectivity is mature (even though we are not yet throwing away our HDMI, USB or Ethernet just yet). However, until now, wireless power has been a bit more evasive. This year it appears closer: Fulton Innovation demonstrated eCoupled technologies to wirelessly power everything from a gadget (like Powermat demonstrated in the last few years) to a thin printout embedded in a cereal box to a Tesla sports car. What’s interesting is the fact that this appears to be possibly on the cusp of being practical.
Greensound demonstrated a nice concept of speakers made almost exclusively from glass – very cool. Not necessarily high-end audio, but very good for many environments.
I have seen a few examples of holographic displays that appeared good enough, but only for dedicated displays / setups. Here’s one of them. A few more pictures are included. I don’t think this is quite ready for mass use.
GM demonstrated their autonomous driving concept vehicle, EN-V. Earlier this year, Google pulled this off on real roads. We know this will eventually be commonplace reality, the key question is “when?”
Home automation & integration
Not really an emerging technology as the world already has all the piece parts. The question is how will they all be integrated and by whom. One of the things seen at CES 2011 is that the iThing (i.e. iPhone, iPad, or iPod) becomes the universal controller replacing or augmenting dedicated controllers.
Video conferencing and even smarter video experiences
At CES 2010, we saw a few Skype-powered TVs for relatively cheap consumer video conferencing from the living room instead of the PC. Later this year, Cisco came out with Umi, offering higher-end video conferencing for consumers. At CES 2011, Cisco completed this story with Videoscape. This is a comprehensive vision that includes a full user, ecosystem, and service provider experience. The nice thing about it is that Cisco neatly carves out a role for service providers to shine in. Whether consumers would embrace what is likely to be an expensive proposition in the near future remains to be seen. Verizon demonstrated Uvi, at least, at their booth.
Conclusions and Takeaways
The high-level trends are clear – computing is becoming ever more mobile (nothing really new there, just reinforced). Computers continue to become smaller and more powerful, and wireless connectivity more ubiquitous. Innovation keeps moving to the edge – the end-user device, and the application ecosystem it powers, on one hand, and to the network/cloud, on the other. As technologies, 3D and eInk-based eReaders are slower to catch on than smartphones and tablets (post iPad). Tablets have taken the place of netbooks, and hybrids are becoming interesting. There’s a question as to whether the superphone will become the centerpiece of our digital lives. Some interesting emerging technologies are gradually nearing maturity.
At this show, few of the major service providers were visible (not necessarily at the show floor itself) – Verizon, AT&T, and Sprint, to name a few. Some satellite and cable providers had presence in some of the consumer electronic manufacturer’s booths. However, despite this presence, I have not yet seen enough activities from service providers to really deal with over-the-top video, nor have I seen them begin to stake their ground in the future digital connected home. It’s not that there aren’t prototypes of such technologies or visions fostered by service providers. It’s just that they aren’t making significant enough moves in that regard.
In 2011, I’d like to see pay TV providers include OTT video programming access directly from their set-top box (STB). They should allow NetFlix and YouTube access, at least. That might not be compelling enough nor fast enough – but it would be an important step in the right direction.
This summary might be lacking – so help me make it more complete and provide feedback – what did you find fascinating and important at CES 2011? What have I missed?