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.
Next: Tablets, HDTVs, Laptops