It's that time again, when the year's big International Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, which ended Friday, fades into memory -- and everyone tries to assess trends, winners and losers. While there were no huge surprises, there are some newly visible signposts for the direction of consumer and business technologies.
Let's start with TV. After trying to stimulate interest in 3D TV with glasses, HD TV appears to be finding its next act. One clear direction is super-high definition TV, in the form of OLED, or organic light-emitting diode technology. LG and Samsung both showed 55-inch OLED screens, thinner than most smartphones and sharp enough that some observers compared the screen to looking through a window. Prices for the sets have not yet been announced, but the expectation is between $5,000 and $8,000 for the early models.
Smart TV, Tablets
Smart TV is also blooming, with voice and gesture recognition being added to Net connectivity on a variety of sets. Lenovo, for instance, showed a prototype that, when a user says "ocean," the set shows a menu of all ocean-related programs.
Tablets and gaming came together in a much-talked-about Project Fiona gaming tablet from Razer -- an 11-inch Windows-based device with an Intel Core i7 CPU and handles on either side. The handles contain the controller buttons and stick, and Razer is hoping that it boosts the tablet form factor as a gaming device beyond iPad games.
The beleaguered Research In Motion presented its PlayBook tablet with e-mail, contacts and calendar apps. Those basic features had been missing in action when RIM first launched the tablet, with the company citing corporate security concerns. The tablet, which has had tepid sales, has been heavily criticized for such functionality gaps. RIM is expecting to release its OS 2.0 for the tablet next month.
Speaking of tablets, the Asus Memo 370T is pointing toward more powerful and cheaper models in that category. The 7-inch Memo uses the Nvidia Tegra 3, has a gigabyte of RAM and 15 GB storage, runs the tablet-optimized Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich OS, and has the very reasonable-sounding price of $250.
Windows Phone, Ultrabooks
The standout Windows Phone device at CES was the Nokia's LTE 4G Lumia 900 for AT&T. The 900 is the first Nokia Windows Phone specifically for the U.S. market, and it sports a 1.4 GHz processor, a 4.3-inch AMOLED touchscreen, and an 8-megapixel camera. The question is whether the Windows Phone platform will now get the momentum it needs to take on Apple and Android smartphones.
In the world of laptops, Ultrabooks were the big news. The ultra-thin, powerful, quick starting, and not-inexpensive laptops, based on processors and specifications from Intel, were represented by more than a dozen models at the show, and as many as 75 Ultrabooks are expected to be released by year's end.
One of the most talked about Ultrabooks is the HP Envy 14 Spectre, with the lid covered in an eye-catching black, scratch-resistant Gorilla Glass. Some observers are judging this initial crop of Ultrabooks as being too expensive, and are looking forward to the next wave, with lower prices, Windows 8, and Intel's next-generation Ivy Bridge processors.
Pund-IT's Principal Analyst Charles King said that last year's CES was "a weird mix of vendors pimping 3D TV and competing products to the iPad." This year's show, he said, "settled down a bit," and showed incremental advances in several areas of interest to businesses.
He pointed to Ultrabooks, notably the Dell XPS 13 and ones from Lenovo. King described the HP Envy as "beautiful but heavy and large." This year's Android tablets, he noted, included "excellent ones" from Sony, Samsung, and Toshiba, and one smartphone in particular he found to be a standout -- the Samsung Galaxy Note.
"It's the size of a 5-inch tablet," King said, "and is almost too big to be a phone, but it fits into the inside pocket of a sports coat and supports handwriting recognition."