By the looks of last week’s Consumer Electronics Show, the annual trade orgy for gadgets and technology in Las Vegas, two things are certain: You will have your own tablet computer in 2011, even if you don’t want one. And the recession is over.
After fighting the 140,000 attendees (which tops pre-recession numbers) to get to the show floor I’d ask big-tech booth staff: “Hey, what are you showing off this year?” The enthusiastic answer: “We have a new tablet!”
After Apple’s extraordinary success with the iPad in 2010 (and an impending 2nd generation iPad rumoured to be on the way early this year) there seemed to be an urgent land-rush at CES to fill second place with devices powered by Google’s Android operating system.
Samsung got out early with its Galaxy Tab last summer. Last week, at the show, everyone else was clearly playing catch-up. Notables included the remarkable Motorola Xoom [top photo], an Android-powered gadget that had geeks salivating. This unit has a dual-core 1GHz processor, two-megapixel front camera, five-megapixel rear camera and 1280x800 display. It was the clear leader of the Android tablet pack at the show.
RIM’s much-hyped Playbook also drew a crowd. Before January, previews suggested the Playbook was not ready for prime-time and had some significant battery hurdles to overcome, but at CES, RIM clearly has a winner on its hands, provided it delivers by mid-year.
Even Samsung competitors Sharp and Panasonic were showing off tablets, which arguably are the ultimate couch companion. Sharp’s 16x9 screen formatted Galapagos is gorgeous, yet only available currently in Japan. Panasonic showed its Viera tablet, demonstrating videos that can be flicked from the tablet onto a Panasonic Viera TV. Clever.
Sharp Galapagos Tablet
And where was Microsoft? Yes there were some Windows 7 powered tablets on the show floor, but the operating system seemed ill-fitted for the flat, sleek tablet form-factor. Microsoft needs to play catch-up to the people playing catch-up to Apple.
After seeing dozens of tablets, I became quite jaded, which led to the question to the PR folks: So what else do you have? “Oh, we have this very exciting 3D [fill in the blank gadget].”
Yep, if you bought into the 3D TV hype at last year’s show, then you’ll be happy to discover that this year’s 3D story was consumer content creation gadgets. Sony debuted the 3D Bloggie, a consumer handled camera for $250 due out in the spring. Olympus unveiled two waterproof 3D still cameras ($200 to $250) that let’s you capture fish in 3D. GoPro showed off its head-mounted HD 3D cameras for mountain-bikers, scuba divers and other extreme sport nuts ($700).
Olympus 3D Camera
In TVs, the story this year was apps. With mobile apps being all the rage, it makes sense for the TV companies to introduce apps to the TV screen. Mostly these software add-ons are designed to bring specific web-video brands to the big screen. TV apps to display Netflix, Boxee and other content delivery networks were most often shown by the big brand TV makers. Panasonic showed what’s possible with this technology: One of its apps paired a treadmill with its TVs using its Viera Connect technology. The app lets you create a route on Google Maps and then displays the virtual run on the TV screen while the treadmill adapts the workout to the plotted route.
And finally, CES would not be CES without a wacky surprise or two. Darth Vader (who seemed suspiciously short) showed up at the Panasonic booth to unveil Star Wars: The Complete Saga on blu-ray disc.
Perhaps the oddest demo on the show floor was from Fulton Innovation, which has adapted food packaging to pick up power from a store shelf and deliver information to a smart shelf at home. In the demo, they showed a HoneyNut Cheerios box that lights up the famous bee. At home the package provides nutritional information (smart shelf sold separately) to a kitchen computer and sends alerts when it’s almost empty. In another demo, soup packaging let you set the temperature of its contents so that when you set it on the stove, the stove knows how to heat it. Yep, just what the world needs: smart soup.