CES 2013 preview: A virtual tour of the show

Summary:Join me on a tongue-in-cheek virtual tour of the Consumer Electronics Show that is starting this week in Las Vegas.

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The giant consumer show will be starting this week in Las Vegas. Over a hundred thousand attendees will be crowding the hotels, taxi lines, and CES 2013 show floor for a glimpse of the upcoming tech that will rock our world. Join me for a virtual tour from the comfort of your computing device of choice and avoid the crowd.

Those holding out for an amazing, exciting product to be announced at the CES this year, maybe that will happen. Just forget for a moment that the last great product to be announced at the CES was the Palm Pre.

The CES has always been spread out over several venues in Vegas due to its size, and this year even more so. Major press events have always been centered around the convention center and Venetian hotel, but this year they are all over the Vegas strip. For attendees to catch all the major press events this year they'll have to hit hotels the entire length of the strip. They spread from the Mandalay Bay hotel on the far end of the strip to the Wynn, with most of the rest taking place at the Venetian and convention center. That's a lot of walking and taxi lines to deal with. This virtual tour is looking like a better idea now, isn't it?

Keynotes

There will be lots of keynotes at the CES but the major show speech will not be given by Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer. Microsoft is skipping the CES this year for the first time so the big keynote will be given by Qualcomm. This company is a major producer of the communications hardware found in most everyone's mobile products so it makes sense even if Qualcomm is not a familiar name in most households.

PCs/ tablets/ hybrids

This is the year of Windows 8 and vendors will be manning giant booths to show off the exciting products coming in 2013.  While Microsoft doesn't have a booth as in years past make no mistake, the company is everywhere. They are no doubt working diligently with major hardware partners to make sure Windows 8 is front and center in each vendor's booth.

Other major PC vendors are foregoing the expensive booth too, with the likes of Lenovo setting up in a tent outside the show floor as they have in past shows. Other vendors are set up in private suites in the major hotels to show off new wares to small groups by appointment only.

The displays are roughly the same no matter where they are situated, with Windows 8 hardware front and center. There is a dazzling number of Ultrabooks, the thin laptops that have been around for a while. These are pretty much as they have been but the models on display show Ultrabooks are getting thinner and lighter.

The newest products in the booths are the Windows 8 hybrids in all sizes. There are laptops with screens that either swivel around or slide down to become touch tablets. These are designed to take full advantage of the dual nature of Windows 8 by functioning as a thin laptop when desired and also a touch tablet when that makes more sense.

There are some Windows 8 tablets that have full laptop docks. These are thin tablets similar in size and weight to the popular iPad, that can be popped into a laptop dock to become a full laptop. Some of the laptop docks have internal batteries to extend the battery life of the tablet when docked, but others do not.

IdeaCenter Horizon table PC 300
Lenovo table PC

On the PC front there are also quite a few all-in-one computers that have large touch screens. This is directly attributable to the touchy-feely nature of Windows 8 and vendors' desires to leverage across entire product lines. The most unique of the big desktop PCs is in the Lenovo tent. The IdeaCenter Horizon is a flashback to the Surface from Microsoft. Not the Surface tablet, the original table Surface. It is designed for multiple users to interact with the touch screen at the same time, a la that first Surface.

This year is like previous years at the CES, with very few of the vendors sharing pricing nor shipping dates for all these new products. We hear a lot of "later this year" and "pricing to be determined" as usual. Many of the gadgets shown are non-working prototypes so we have to take the vendors' word as to how great it really is. Most of the working demo units are bolted down to the table so it is hard to judge how well these hybrids work.

Android

You would need weeks to see every single Android product at CES 2013. As in years past major vendors have Android tablets in their booths right next to the Windows 8 products on display. There are tablets of all sizes and many with laptop docks like the Windows hybrids.

These tablets are pretty much all alike, with similar hardware components and with the same version of Android on display.

Google will announce the next version of Android at the Google I/O conference later this year so all vendors have to show the current version (Jelly Bean) on these new tablets. They are trying to convince attendees how good Jelly Bean is and how impressed we should be that they are actually using it on all these tablets.

The major companies are not the only ones showing off Android tablets as is quickly evident by the seemingly endless queues of small booths from companies with unfamilar names. These are showing tablets that all look alike, with cheap price the single variable feature. There are tablets being shown that will sell for just a hundred bucks, if they actually come to market. They aren't very good tablets as you tend to get what you pay for in mobile gadgets.

Smartphones

As usual for the CES there are not that many smartphones on display. Most big smartphone vendors now have press events later in the year to launch hot phones and many show off new phones at the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. 

The exception this year is RIM showing off the new BlackBerry 10 phones. The company is trying to recapture the enthusiasm that has been absent for a few years and hopes the new version of the BlackBerry software will do that. From what is being shown it is certainly a huge step forward for the BlackBerry and may indeed rekindle the love for RIM's products. It might not be enough to save RIM but BlackBerry 10 looks darn good.

TVs

One of the biggest product groups here at CES is the mighty TV. Every company that makes TVs is here with a huge presence, with wall after wall covered with flat-screen TVs. The TVs on display range from normal sized models to massive TVs that cover entire walls.

The booth reps are insistent that this year (finally) is the year of the 3D TV. We are told we can be sure that the old-school 2D TV we have now is a dinosaur, and 3D is going to take off big-time. That's what they've been telling show attendees for years now, but according to them it's going to happen now.

The 3D explosion is not the only one being touted in all these TV booths, this year is also going to be the year of the fully web-connected TV. We will all be tweeting and Facebooking our friends from our shiny new connected TV. We will do all our web surfing on our giant flat-screen TV. We will wonder why we need all of those PCs, laptops, and tablets being shown in the other halls. The TV is the computer display of the future according to all these TV vendors.

Of course, we've been hearing this for a few years, just like the 3D thing. The story is pretty much the same this year and these new TVs look like those of past years. It's hard to see why this year is different.

Gadget accessories

As usual, Apple is nowhere near the CES event. It does its own thing in its own time and never exhibits at this show. That doesn't mean Apple products are not a big draw at the CES, as there are acres of accessories for Apple products on the show floor.

There are thousands of cases for the iPhone in all shapes and colors. There are hundreds of speakers, both with and without wires for use with the iPad, iPad mini, and iPhone. There are so many speakers for Apple ware that if all of them fired up at the same time there'd be a sonic boom in the convention center.

There are docks, stands, battery packs, and cases for every gadget that Apple sells. They come in every color and some with fancy imprints. There are dozens of Hello Kitty accessories for Apple products.

There are just as many accessories for Android phones and tablets, so Apple is not the only draw at the CES. That's as it should be given Android's dominance in the mobile space.

Enjoy the show

I hope you enjoyed your virtual tour of the CES 2013 just before the show starts in Las Vegas. Your feet thank you for doing the show virtually, I'm sure. While this preview of the CES was offered tongue-in-cheek, it will be interesting to see if the real show is a lot like this virtual one. You may be surprised to see how accurate this may be.

Those holding out for an amazing, exciting product to be announced at the CES this year, maybe that will happen. Just forget for a moment that the last great product to be announced at the CES was the Palm Pre. While it actually made it to market it didn't fare too well.

More coverage on ZDNet from CES 2013:

Topics: CES, Android, Windows 8

About

James Kendrick has been using mobile devices since they weighed 30 pounds, and has been sharing his insights on mobile technology for almost that long. Prior to joining ZDNet, James was the Founding Editor of jkOnTheRun, a CNET Top 100 Tech Blog that was acquired by GigaOM in 2008 and is now part of that prestigious tech network. James' w... Full Bio

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