The oh-so-enchanting Steve Ballmer keynote: Gone. The sprawling, seemingly never-ending Microsoft product pavillion: Gone. The army of Microsoft marketing flacks, storming CES en masse with hive-like precision: Gone, gone, gone.
Sure, Microsoft may not be appearing at CES 2013 as a marquee exhibitor, but its presence will still loom large in Las Vegas once the show begins. Windows 8 tablets, PCs, laptops, and peripherals will be hard to avoid on the noisy tradeshow floor. In fact, the new OS might even gain some swagger, as PC makers are expected to show off Windows 8 gear with cutting-edge features such as Kinect-like gesture control and voice command navigation.
At past CES events, laptops and desktops have been overshadowed by glitzier gadgets like HDTVs and connected appliances. But this year, as Windows finds its way into tablets, hybrids, and living room all-in-ones, you can bet your mouse pad that various PCs—in all their new, fancy incarnations—will become rock star-caliber attractions.
Several major PC makers have officially announced new laptops debuting at CES, but most are tight lipped on specifics. Samsung jumped the gun on Wednesday, announcing two new Series 7 laptops, dubbed Series 7 Chronos and the Series 7 Ultra, that claim 11-hour battery life and a 150 percent speed increase in Web browsing and running apps.
LG, meanwhile, says it will show off a number of Windows 8 PCs, including its LG Tab-Book H160 hybrid notebook, featuring an 11.6-inch display and a slide-out QWERTY keyboard. We also know that Lenovo has a flood of interesting PC announcements in store—but we can't share them now, lest we suffer their lawyers' wrath.
Some of the PCs we'll be seeing at CES won't have traditional keyboards. After all, with Windows 8, it's all about touch. We're expecting to see host of svelte, all-in-ones desktops that sport touch displays (no keyboard needed) that are pretty enough for your family room, and practical enough for looking up recipes in the kitchen.
Asus and Intel are also expected to make a splash at CES with PCs that you can navigate with voice commands and hand gestures.
Through a partnership with Leap Motion, Asus will bundle hand-gesture technology into a number of high-end laptops, according to reports. Leap Motion technology will allow Asus laptops to track movements of both hands (and all 10 fingers) at 290 frames per second and detect movements as small as 1/100 of a millimeter, according to a Venture Beats article. Asus laptops with Leap Motion technology support the same type of hands-free navigation offered by the Xbox Kinect.
Leap Motion will also be at CES showing off its motion sensor peripheral, which is about the size of a pack of gum and can be added to Windows 8 PCs.
We're also eager to see voice commands bundled into PCs, something Intel has been hyping since the Intel Developers Forum in September. Last year, Intel inked a deal with voice recognition firm Nuance, the makers of Dragon NaturallySpeaking, to optimize PCs for voice control and navigation. Voice control support is something Intel has been promising to support for the past year. Now our PCs will finally be able to hear us when we yell at them.
We expect Intel will also push its 2013 crop of Ultrabooks this year at CES. The latest models will be even slimmer, offer longer battery life, and have higher resolution touch displays. Last September, Intel announced its ultra-low-voltage Haswell processor (the successor to the third-generation Ivy Bridge processor), making CES the logical choice of venues to showcase notebooks based on the new chip architecture.
Last year, tablets were a big theme at CES, and this year the number of tablets on display in Las Vegas may hit a high water mark. Joining the hordes of CES 2013 Android tablets will be scads of new Windows 8 tablets, based on Intel and (we suspect) ARM architecture.
Since Windows 8 and Microsof's own Surface table tlaunched in October, we haven't seen prices on Windows 8 tablets budge much. So at this year's CES, we'll be keeping our eyes open for more affordable Windows 8 tablets from overseas manufacturers. These partnerships could help Microsoft gain some traction in the tablet wars later this year.
Besides Windows 8 PCs, a number of Windows 8 peripheral makers will be at CES showing off specialized keyboards, touch pads, and touch-friendly monitors. Samsung, for one, announced it will be in Las Vegas showing off a 24-inch Series 7 SC770 touch monitor optimized for Windows 8.
One of the more out-there Windows 8 peripherals is a device called Tobii Rex, which tracks you eye movements, allowing you to zoom, scroll, and select items on your Windows 8 desktop—all with your eyes. Tobii, the maker of the gizmo, says the Tobbi Rex works by attaching a small sensor to the bottom of your monitor.
Of course, until the show floor opens, we won't really know the full impact of Windows 8 on CES 2013. I think it’s a safe bet, however, to say that if a device is running Windows 8, you'll be able to either twist it, flip it, touch it, or maybe even talk to it.
Too bad Microsoft didn't stick with CES for one more year. This could be Windows 8's big moment.