At this year's CES, tablets will get cheaper, laptops will get thinner, and cameras will become more like phones. Apps will be everywhere, including in cars. And Microsoft's phone-inspired Windows 8 will edge closer to release.
Beneath all of the specifics, though, mobile technology will be driving many of the trends on display at CES 2012 in Las Vegas next week. Phones, tablets, and mobile software are soaking up most of the energy and attention in technology today. We'll see lots of new mobile products and technologies at CES, but we'll also see older products--laptops, cameras, and even desktop PC OSs--trying to remain relevant by adopting features of mobile devices.
A prime example is the Ultrabook, the year's hot new laptop design. Ultrabooks are razor-thin and light, but unlike the cheap netbooks of a few years ago, they aim for beautiful, sophisticated designs and enough power to buzz through most of the tasks that an average user needs to perform. You can look at Ultrabooks as Windows versions of the MacBook Air, since Apple's svelte laptop has clearly helped inspire the new designs. But the Ultrabook is just as clearly a response to the growing popularity of tablets. By cutting the weight of their laptops to a level only slightly greater than that of a full-size tablet, and by focusing on cutting-edge designs, laptop makers can argue that Ultrabooks are almost as portable and just as fashionable as tablets--and that they're more useful, thanks to the built-in keyboard and ability to run more-capable software.
Tablet makers aren't focused on the competition from Ultrabooks, however. Instead, they're trying to figure out how to beat Apple's iPad. The only tablet that came close to competing with the $500-and-up iPad in 2011 was Amazon's $200 Kindle Fire. The lesson seems clear: Tablets need to be much cheaper than the iPad to have much of a chance of widespread adoption. Expect to see lots of budget-priced tablets at CES, many of them running the new version of Google's Android operating system, nicknamed Ice Cream Sandwich.
Windows 8 is another example of older PC technology hoping that a mobile makeover will make it look hip again. The most notable part of the new OS is its Metro interface of brightly colored, interactive tiles. That design comes directly from Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 OS, which reviewers have praised, even though it hasn't yet broken through with consumers.
We don't expect to see the final version of Windows 8 until the second half of 2012, but at CES we hope to see a more evolved beta version of the software and perhaps to try it out on prototype tablets and laptops designed for the new OS.
No product faces more of a threat from mobile technology than cameras. In the past few years, camera makers have come out with tremendous innovations, including pocket megazoom models and compact interchangeable-lens cameras that arm point-and-shoot models with DSLR-like capabilities. But single-purpose cameras haven't overcome the convenience advantage that phones enjoy.
Today's smartphones take decent images; they're in people's pockets virtually 24 hours a day; and once you get a great shot, you can share it with friends with the touch of a button. So to combat phones that are becoming more like cameras, cameras must become more like phones. Expect this year's CES to include lots of phones that allow users to upload images to Facebook, email them to friends, or put them on a photo-sharing service--instantly and wirelessly.
Here's a summary of what PCWorld's product experts expect at CES 2012 (click the subject link to go to a longer discussion of the topic):
- Tablets: We're looking for a flood of tablets, including some with budget prices. We also expect to hear some buzz about Windows 8 for tablets.
- HDTVs: The HDTV industry will focus on improving the TV-watching experience, with less emphasis on improving the TVs themselves.
- Laptops: We anticipate announcements of thin-and-light Ultrabook laptops equipped with Intel's upcoming line of CPUs (code-named "Ivy Bridge") that promise improved graphics capabilities.
- Smartphones: Perhaps we'll see the first LTE Windows Phone for AT&T, or maybe a Sony Ericsson phone equipped with a 13-megapixel camera.
- Cameras: Look for Wi-Fi-enabled imaging devices as camera manufacturers try to beat the competitive heat from smartphones. We also expect to see a lot of very small cameras with big optical-zoom ranges.
- Desktop PCs: The biggest desktop PC news likely to come out of CES will involve the inclusion of Ivy Bridge CPUs, and the emergence of thinner, lighter all-in-one PCs.
- Networking: We're looking forward to demos of a new wireless standard that will mark the next step up from 802.11n.
- Apps: Expect a deluge of apps, including some that will be available in new cars from Ford.
Now let's take a more-detailed look, category by category.
For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.Tablets
Tablets will be everywhere at CES. I expect to encounter a wide range of screen sizes, from the 5-inch displays of oversize phones/miniature tablets to screens with diagional measurements of 10.1 inches or more. And we'll probably see many different features in these tablets (stand-alone GPS! waterproof! 3D!).
Judging from Google's strategy to allow all comers to license Android 4.0, 2012 will be the year of the budget tablet. Android 3.0 Honeycomb OS-based tablets were limited to top-tier manufacturers, but lots of others are taking advantage of the opportunity to play in the Android 4.0 sandbox. This development should yield a deluge of Android 4.0 tablets; some, like those from Efun and the new Acer Iconia A200, have been announced in advance of the show, while others will be announced at the show. Asus says that during the show it will roll out an Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich update to its Eee Pad Transformer Prime.
Android 4.0's blanketing approach will ultimately benefit consumers: It encourages competition and invites more options, as well as lower prices overall. It also means that you'll have to be smart about what you're purchasing, in order to avoid buying a clunker that touts its shiny new Android 4.0 OS, but may contain subpar components elsewhere that slow the tablet experience to a crawl.
For tablet makers, Android 4.0 isn't the only big selling point this year. The other is Windows 8. I've received word of several Windows 8 tablets that will be shown (though some may be behind closed doors only), and smaller vendors are already touting "Windows 8-ready" tablets, a designation that presumably means the tablet has the guts and screen resolution needed to run Windows 8. --Melissa J. Perenson
Most of the really interesting HDTV-related stuff that I expect to see at CES this year will involve experimental or otherwise not-ready-for-market TV tech demos. The actual 2012 lineup, meanwhile, will consist largely of unimpressive incremental updates to last year's sets. In other words, the theme for the show in the HDTV category will be "Bet You Can't Wait Until 2013!"
Last year's CES was a stellar one for HDTV enthusiasts: Internet-connected features took off, passive 3D TVs appeared on the scene for folks who weren't willing to endure the headache of active-shutter 3D TVs, and LED edge-lit sets flooded the market from entry level to high end. Aside from the occasional glasses-free 3D TV, however, there wasn't much in the way of promising prototype TV tech--just a solid batch of improvements in existing tech.
Consider LG's upcoming 55-inch OLED TV. Undoubtedly it will look beyond beautiful, and the new manufacturing process that the company used to achieve its extralarge size will (I hope) help reduce OLED manufacturing costs dramatically. But bear in mind that LG's 15-inch OLED TV from 2010 debuted at $2700--the same price as a top-of-the-line 55-inch LED TV.
Likewise, people have been working on glasses-free ("autostereoscopic") 3D TV for a long time, and we've seen prototype sets at CES for several years now. This year I expect some manufacturer to show off an almost-market-ready glasses-free 3D TV that is as watchable as a normal TV--and it will probably reappear at CES 2013, with a projected release date and a price tag.
I predict that the HDTV industry will focus this year on improving the TV-watching experience, not on hugely upgrading the TVs themselves. Though TV manufacturers won't have a lot of new ways to boost their HDTV specs, they may try to make their image-tweaking options more user-friendly (and include even more useful preset modes). They won't be able to add many new content channels to their streaming video catalog, but they will be working on touchscreen remotes and smartphone/tablet apps that make searching and navigating through your many options easier. All in all, you can expect to get more TV from your buck in 2012--but don't plan on seeing much shiny new tech this year. --Patrick Miller
If 2010 and 2011 were years when portable computing was all about smartphones and tablets, 2012 may be the year that laptops make a comeback. Laptop makers are moving away from "cheap junk" laptops with bargain basement prices and striving for higher-quality systems, emphasizing thin-and-light designs, better materials, and enhanced usability.
The stars of the show, where laptops are concerned, will be Ultrabooks. Only a few Ultrabooks had reached market by the end of 2011, but we'll see dozens of models debuting throughout 2012. Many will be configured with CPUs from Intel's upcoming line code-named "Ivy Bridge," which resembles today's Sandy Bridge Core i5 and i7 processors, but with improved graphics capabilities and lower power use. The improvements should make Ivy Bridge perfect for thinner, lighter laptops. In addition to dozens of new laptops from current manufacturers, we may see one or two companies entering the field for the first time. Like Razer with its Blade gaming laptop, companies better known for other categories of tech products may sense an opportunity in the laptop PC market.
I hope to see at least one Ultrabook with discrete graphics. It doesn't have to be high-end--even a modest GPU from Nvidia or AMD would easily outclass the integrated graphics in Intel's chips, even with the improvements in Ivy Bridge. I'd much rather see discrete graphics than an optical drive, and I know companies will be building Ultrabooks with those. Laptops equipped with responsive touchscreens, in preparation for Windows 8, would be nice another treat at CES 2012. Whatever the laptop manufacturers have to announce, I hope it doesn't involve stuffing thick, heavy plastic machines with an array of parts to produce the cheapest laptop possible. Let's hope that the days of the crappy $500 laptop are behind us.
Windows 8 looms large over the whole PC industry, including laptops. Though it's unlikely to be released until the latter half of the year, the OS is probably going to very big--or at least heavily marketed. New Windows releases tend to possess a halo effect that lifts PC sales; and since Windows 8 is the most dramatic change to Windows in the last few years, the lift this time around could be larger than usual. With any luck, we'll see an updated version of Windows 8 at CES that will give us a hint about what's in store for us in February when the public beta appears. We may even get an early peek at laptops or convertible tablets designed with Windows 8 in mind. --Jason Cross
For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.Smartphones
CES is a hot-or-cold show for mobile phones. With Mobile World Congress slated to take place the very next month, and with CTIA happening in May, previous CES events have been a bit on the quiet side for phone news.
Nevertheless, CES 2011 was a big year: Verizon unveiled its first LTE 4G phones, including the HTC Thunderbolt and Droid Bionic; AT&T stepped up its Android game with the Motorola Atrix 4G; and LG revealed its superslim Optimus phones. Will this year be equally exciting? It's hard to say. [Read: "15 Sizzling Smartphones of CES 2011."]
The carrier presence at CES won't be huge--only AT&T has a press conference of the Big Four--but Nokia will be there, as will Samsung, LG, and Nvidia. Last year, Nvidia showed off the first Tegra 2 dual-core phones. Could its return engagement mean that we'll see mega-powerful quad-core Tegra 3 phones at this year's show? The rumored "HTC Edge" has been on our radar for awhile, as it supposedly will be the first quad-core phone released; but I've heard conflicting reports about when its makers will actually announce it. More than likely, it will appear in February at Mobile World Congress. We may also see the "HTC Elite," which will run Android 4.0 (Ice Cream Sandwich), and the first LTE Windows Phone for AT&T.
Speaking of the Windows Phone OS, Nokia is expected to announce a U.S. version of its flagship Lumia 800 phone. According to rumor, the Lumia "Ace" 900 is larger than its European sibling, with a 4.3-inch display rather than a 3.7-inch display. The Lumia 710 for T-Mobile has already been announced; but some additional, lower-end Nokia Windows Phones may also make an appearance.
We probably won't see the Samsung Galaxy S III at CES, since the company traditionally announces its flagship phones at Mobile World Congress. However, some affordable Galaxy phones are likely to show up. Likewise, LG tends to make its big announcements in February, but I'm hoping to get my hands on the flashy new LG Prada, which rolled out in Europe and Asia last month. Sony Ericsson, which is rebranding as Sony, has a few press events at the show. I expect to see at least one new Xperia phone, which may be the rumored "LT28at" (and which I hope has a catchier name at launch). This Sony Ericsson Xperia supposedly comes with a 13-megapixel camera (yes, 13 megapixels), LTE and HSPA radios, a 4.55-inch display, and a front-facing camera. --Ginny Mies
Expect a bigger-than-usual crop of camera announcements at this year's CES, as 2012 marks the first year that the annual PMA (Photo Marketing Association) will occur simultaneously with CES. PMA usually sees more high-end camera announcements in the realm of DSLRs, compact interchangeable-lens cameras, and lenses; whereas CES tends to be a showcase for point-and-shoots and relatively beginner-friendly photography devices.
We do see a few connected cameras every year at CES, but this year promises to be heavy on Wi-Fi-enabled imaging devices. Cameras are feeling the competitive heat from smartphones, and more and more of them this year will come equipped with phonelike uploading and sharing features so that they can compete more squarely with phones. Samsung has already announced a new DualView point-and-shoot camera with Wi-Fi connectivity, and several companies traditionally use CES to show off their new connected cameras.
Big optical zoom ranges in very small cameras are another big trend, as the pocket megazoom category has grown in popularity over the years. In the past year, we saw pocketable cameras with optical-zoom reaches of up to 20X--specs that required a camera about the size of a DSLR just a few years ago. What's more, cameras with zoom ranges of up to 12X have become more pocketable than ever; at less than an inch thick, they're smaller than some 3X-optical-zoom cameras from just a few years back.
For an in-depth discussion of what to expect in the cameras category at CES and beyond in 2012, see "Camera and Camera-Phone Trends to Expect in 2012" and "CMOS Is Winning the Camera Sensor Battle, and Here's Why" --Tim Moynihan
The biggest desktops news out of CES will be the long-awaited appearance of Intel's Ivy Bridge CPUs. These processors will make thinner, faster all-in-one PCs possible, cutting down on power consumption while boosting performance--theoretically.
The traditional PC tower hasn't disappeared, but over the past year consumers have been steered toward all-encompassing all-in-one desktops, and that trend shows no sign of slackening at CES. [Read: "How Desktop PCs Got Their Groove Back."]
Expect the new all-in-ones to be thinner, faster, and equipped with larger screens. Their tower counterparts will continue to shrink, primarily targeting folks who need a media-center PC or want an inexpensive Web-surfing machine. Massive, performance-level desktop PCs will be out in force, too, but they will be aimed at exclusively at content producers who need lots of horsepower, and at gamers.
It's probably too soon for actual products to make the rounds, but I hope to see a few prototypes of impossibly slim all-in-ones and monstrous gaming rigs running Intel's latest and greatest processors. --Nate Ralph
For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.
Besides encountering all kinds of dual-band, 802.11n, and high-power routers for home use, we expect to see new, more-powerful hybrid routers that use your home's power line to extend your connection into rooms where other desktops or Internet-capable TVs might not otherwise enjoy wired Internet. The routers will also be able to use that connection to expand wireless Internet coverage to hard-to-reach rooms.
Another item generating some buzz is the upcoming debut of consumer routers that operate on a new wireless standard that represents the next step up from 802.11n. The new version will operate on the high-frequency 60GHz band of spectrum, and proponents say that it'll be blazing fast for wireless connections--delivering almost 7 gigabits per second. The downside of the new standard is that, since it operates at such high frequency (most routers today use the 2.4GHz or 5GHz bands), it functions at only a very short range before the wireless signal begins to disintegrate.
I expect to see a demo from Wilocity (one of the forerunning distributors of chipsets designed to work on a 60GHz band) on the speed and range of the new standard. This may provide a taste of what a future of fast, short-range wireless on top of slower, long-range wireless will be like. --Megan Geuss
Apps are sure to make a big splash at this year's show. As dual- and quad-core processors become increasingly common, I expect to see a lot more gaming apps that feature console-quality graphics on phones, tablets, and other mobile devices.
The number of augmented-reality apps should pick up steam at CES, promising new "Kinect-like" features such as gesture recognition.
On the business side, apps that provide IT support are likely to be a big hit among companies that let their employees use their own smartphones for work.
Phones and tablets won't be the only things running apps this year: Ford will demonstrate more apps for its new line of "connected cars," which the auto maker says will contribute to a much more enjoyable driving experience. For people who want to view and work with apps on something bigger than a 10-inch display, TV manufacturers such as Samsung will make another big push to promote app-centric "smart TVs." --Armando Rodriguez
For more blogs, stories, photos, and video from the nation's largest consumer electronics show, check out PCWorld's complete coverage of CES 2012.