CES 2010 preview: Six trends to watch for at this year's show

CES 2010 preview: Six trends to watch for at this year's show

Summary: CES 2010: In an attempt to make sense of the 2010 Consumer Electronics Show, here are six trends we'll be watching for at this year's show.


The 2010 International Consumer Electronics Show is just days away -- it unofficially begins on Tue., Jan. 5 and officially on Thurs. Jan. 7 in Las Vegas, Nev. -- and this year is expected to popularize several technologies that have been under development for some time.

(ZDNet will be live in Las Vegas covering next week's show, starting Jan. 5. Don't miss it!)

In an attempt to make sense of it all before the landslide of news begins to overwhelm, here are six trends we'll be watching for at this year's show:

1.) Small laptops experience fragmentation

With the announcement of Intel's new Atom N450 processor, the netbook is taking steps toward becoming less than a poor-performing, undersized laptop.

At the same time, expect all the major notebook manufacturers to introduce laptops with ULV -- that's ultra-low-voltage -- processors in them, which offer more performance than the Atom, great efficiency (and thus battery life), and a small footprint, allowing systems to be quite thin in form factor.

Complicating the situation is the introduction of the smartbook, which by nature of its name, fits between the netbook and the smartphone. Smartbooks are extra small and portable, offer comparable battery life and eschew x86 processors (goodbye, Intel!) for mobile processors (hello, Qualcomm!), just like e-book readers. They're expected to be priced more affordable than the netbook (we're talking $150 to $250).

Two years ago, we had laptops of all shapes and sizes. One year ago, we had notebooks and netbooks. Now, we'll have full-powered notebooks, ULV laptops, netbooks and smartbooks. (Not to mention the occasional rumored slate tablet device by a certain company in Cupertino, among others.)

Will there be another netbook boom? I doubt it -- the market has changed, and there are now different players. But expect to see solid sales in this market as college students and others catch on to the utility of smaller, thinner portable computers.

2.) Home theater goes 3D

By now you've surely heard all the ruckus about James Cameron's Avatar, a film so expensive that by design it's supposed to usher in a new era of big-screen entertainment: 3D. Visual entertainment in three dimensions is by no means new, but the latest renaissance of the technology is coming on strong, with most major film houses (pricier tickets!), television manufacturers (bigger televisions!), home theater component sellers (renewed interest!) and content providers (3D channels! TV sitcoms! Football games! Star Wars!) all having a hand in the pot.

Jeffrey Katzenberg would be pleased, indeed.

Since CES places such prominence on the home theater segment of consumer electronics, expect to see a number of big-name TV manufacturers placing renewed emphasis on 3D tech for the home. What that means: bigger sets, sales of sophisticated 3D glasses, 3D boxes and a whole lot of (likely overpriced) HDMI cables. Now that the technology has been available for awhile, prices are pushing down -- meaning you can soon buy an 82-inch 3D HDTV for less than $2,999.

High-end home theater has been out of vogue for the younger market. Expect 3D to make a play for those consumers' attention.

3.) Brighter, crisper, more flexible displays

Now that we've got all these big, interactive screens in our lives -- televisions, laptops, smartphones, and so forth -- how can we improve on them?

That's where OLED, or "organic light-emitting diode," displays come in. Like 3D home theater tech, OLED is nothing new, but it's plenty expensive. At CES in previous years, Sony and Samsung have outgunned each other in terms of the thinnest and largest OLED displays. Until now, the price has proven too high for all but the wealthiest of early adopters, and durability has always been a concern.

This year, expect OLED (and thin, durable cousin AMOLED, or "active-matrix OLED") to work its way into many more portable gadgets. The world may not yet be ready for an 82-inch OLED display (though I know a few folks who will make themselves ready), but the three-inch screen on your smartphone? That can certainly be done -- meaning brighter, crisper displays are already coming to your favorite electronics.

You've heard us gadget reviewers rave about the vibrancy of these screens. Soon, they'll be available on far more than the Zune HD or Samsung Omnia II.

Oh, and the flexible thing? For several years, manufacturers have been working on ways to offer flexible and/or transparent OLED displays. They're getting better at it, and the technology has proven itself inexpensive to manufacture. Don't expect to see any products with the technology at CES, but you might see a prototype (e-book reader, perhaps?) of things to come.

4.) Car tech gets smarter

Ford Motor Company CEO Alan Mulally is scheduled to give a keynote speech at CES this year, and there's a reason: car tech is back in a big way.

For years, car tech meant making automobiles less hostile to portable technology (remember the 2001 Mazda Protégé MP3?). Now, car makers are realizing that the best way to please folks is to actually make cars smarter and incorporate one's personal tech life into the vehicle by fully integrating with other decidedly non-car devices.

For Ford, that means plenty of promotion of SYNC, the company's in-car communications and entertainment system, which was developed in partnership with -- you guessed it -- Microsoft. Sync incorporates essential services (911 emergency, turn-by-turn GPS directions, weather and traffic info) with hands-free, voice-activated manipulation of phone calls, music, text messaging -- even turning your vehicle into a Wi-Fi hotspot.

In other words: your car is now playing nicer with your digital life.

The system was announced in 2007, but the company's placing renewed focus on the tech, rolling it out into less expensive vehicles and using it as a competitive differentiator. The clock's ticking, however: Kia will be announcing a competing system named UVO at CES, also based off Microsoft's now non-exclusive technology. And I'm sure General Motors has something in the lab, perhaps based on its OnStar system.

Bad for Ford, good for consumers.

5.) Smartphones get aggressive, tablets get impressive

CES was never really a mobile phone show, but Palm's success drawing eyeballs for the launch of its Pre smartphone and webOS platform last year told the world that it's not a half-bad idea to break the rules.

We've come a long way in a year's time. It was barely a year ago that the first Google Android phone (T-Mobile G1) was released, the first touchscreen BlackBerry (Storm) was introduced, and touchscreen smartphones were an expensive novelty.

The mobile market in 2010 will be a cage match. Palm's already scheduled another press conference -- maybe this year they'll save the company -- and with a bit of Apple-like flair, Google has announced a January 5 event that's expected to be for its Google Nexus One Android-based smartphone for T-Mobile.

Moreover, Dell is rumored to be announcing something mobile -- maybe an Android phone, maybe a tablet PC -- at CES. And have we mentioned Google Chrome OS yet? Something tells me HTC's got something in the works.

6.) Eco-friendly everything

All year, manufacturers have been touting their green credentials, from better power efficiency to reducing manufacturing costs to making more environmentally-friendly packaging for their new gadgets (see Dell's above). For them, it's not just good for the environment, it's good business, too.

This year's CES is making "green" official by scheduling green-specific conferences and green gadget show-and-tells. The show's governing body, the Consumer Electronics Association, has also promised to buy carbon offsets and donate $50,000 to the Las Vegas police department to invest in electric vehicles.

We'll be covering some of the new green gadgets here on ZDNet, but for the full green experience at CES, keep an eye on our sister site SmartPlanet.

Which tech trends do you anticipate the most? Leave your techie desires in TalkBack.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware, Laptops, Smartphones

Andrew Nusca

About Andrew Nusca

Andrew Nusca is a former writer-editor for ZDNet and contributor to CNET. During his tenure, he was the editor of SmartPlanet, ZDNet's sister site about innovation.

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  • what I'd like to see at CES

    1. UMPCs (ultra-mobile PCs) galore with Fujitsu's UH900 (1.1 lb), Viliv's N5, UMID's M2 (0.7 lb), and anyone else who wants to crash this party. It's about weight, usability, performance, and battery life.

    2. Manufacturers updating their flagship ultraportables, like Lenovo's X200s, Panasonic's R8, Toshiba's Portege R600 (the
    latter could be more durable). Aside from
    the R600, you can never be too thin or too

    3. More affordable home RAID enclosures
    supporting RAID 10, handling > 1 drive
    failure, having redundant power supplies,
    and 5 or 6 drive bays (for hot or cold
    spares), and accomodating drives up to
    2 TB or higher in capacity (after all,
    we have to make sure that replacement drives
    of the same size will be available when,
    not if, the drives ultimately fail).

    4. Lighter weight Tablet PCs. Tablets
    currently have a weight premium of ~1 lb.
    over their nontablet counterparts. I am
    not really in favor of multitouch nontablets
    because they let our messy, greasy fingers
    muck up the screen. Besides, pens are more
    precise. I am in favor of tablets whose
    screens can be separated from their keyboards
    (like a dock) to reduce carrying weight.

    5. The xpPhone, a smartphone running XP or
    your favorite Linux distro.

    6. 1 TB and larger SATA 3.5" hard disks that do
    not have awful failure rates. 500 GB and
    larger SATA 2.5" hard disks that do not have
    awful failure rates.

    7. Wide screen computer monitors with HDMI
    ports, 1080P support, and decent speakers.

    It's just that when somethin "new" dives in and proves
    to be a success, manufacturers start trying new stuff
    with whatever the "new" thing is.
    The "new" tech progresses to a level after which there
    is no practical improvement,,,,,, and then it gets
    old,,,,, and then its time for something "NEWER"
    That's how it works, and u all may already know
    this,,,,,but, i just felt like writing bout it........

    Happy New Year
  • What's with the hype of 3D?

    I'm sorry, but all I see is double images. My left eye is blind and I use residual vision with my right eye to see.

    I may have seen the 3D version of Avatar, but when I put in 3D glasses, it just gives me a different tone coming out of the screen. When I take it off, it looks clearer.

    Well, okay, maybe I don't have to wear 3D glasses in order to watch 3D TV, but I will see it to believe it. No doubt I will be seeing a double image coming from a screen. If that's the case, I'm not surprised.

    For those in the know, my optic nerve didn't develop for my left eye when I was born; thus, that's when I was born with my left eye completely blind. :(
    Grayson Peddie
    • Sorry to hear about your left eye, but...

      ...how can you ask "what's with the hype of 3D" in that case? If you are already well aware of the fact that you cannot experience the actual 3D effect, why do you choose to go to the 3D movies at all? How can you knock the technology in that case?

      I saw Avatar a week ago, and while I thought the 3D was just a gimmick before I saw Avatar, it was extremely well done in Avatar - not gimmicky like everything is trying to poke you in the face, instead it was just enough to make you feel like you are that much closer to the action.

      And they do have the non-3D versions playing right next door in the next theater over, so in that case I think it would make more sense for you.
      • With all the talk about 3D, it makes me feel like I've been left out.

        I think holographic images would be the best for those who are visually impaired. But until then, those who are visual impaired will have to sacrifice their 3D experience and get back into 2D viewing.
        Grayson Peddie
  • RE: CES 2010 preview: Six trends to watch for at this year's show

    What I want: a true home server. If someone could make a linux that does what windows server does - give me logon & shares for my windows boxes. Except without being a "server" in terms of cost & power usage. 2 2.5" HDs in RAID 1, low power usage, and reasonable cost. I'd buy that quickly!
    • They already have, and it's free

      Try looking at Amahi Home Server, based on fedora 9 and very actively supported.

    • Give FreeNAS a look

      I was in the same situation as you. Tried Ubuntu home server, Linux mce, etc. I found FreeNAS running BSD and it does about everything I could want. I run an FTP server, do automated home backups of Linux AND Windows machines, etc. Runs great on an old Compaq 1.7ghz p4 I bought for $50. Stuck in a Rosewill SATA card and a terabyte hdd and all is well.
      I had a Linksys SLUG running the unslung software before. No comparison. Much faster and I can stream media to multiple devices.
  • CES 2010 preview: Games get freehand

    CES 2010 might well be the debut for Natal on Xbox 360.
    • and dukem nukem forever.

      sorry but natal, if it is true, will be way different than the conceptual art showed in the ads, and the "thing" showed in the exposition for selected personal is just a ultraexpensive motion capture system.
  • where 90% of the population still uses a crt tube televisor.

    i don't think that will exist a wave of consumer that will buy a ultraexpensive 3d slim and flexible screen just for fun.
  • More police with electric vehicules...

    I sudently like the green movement. Easier to get away in a boosted catless EVO then ever!
    Tommy S.
  • RE: CES 2010 preview: Six trends to watch for at this year's show

    Carbon Offsets are a waste of money. Carbon dioxide is an extremely minor greenhouse gas and not likely the cause of any warming (instead is released by oceans as a result of warming). By the way, if global warming was actually man made, I would be happy to contribute. History shows us that mass species devastation has come during cooling periods not during warming periods.

    B _B
  • RE: CES 2010 preview: Six trends to watch for at this year's show

    The heat-trapping properties of carbon dioxide are indisputable. The laws of physics simply refuse to accomodate your opinion, which, by the way, is one you were fed by the energy industry.