The 2011 version of the Consumer Electronics Show in early January has a tall order: Highlight upcoming technologies and make sure they actually deliver.
At CES last year, there were a bevy of technologies that just didn't quite pan out. Who can forget Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer talking about slate PCs and then Apple's iPad rewrote the rules? Just in case you forgot, here's the video.
How about 3DTV? That technology was supposed to change our lives. Yeah right. How about all of those startups that were aiming to kill Amazon's Kindle only to disappear before hitting the starting line? Enthusiasm for Palm? That was so 2009. Now Palm is part of Hewlett-Packard.
When I reflect on last year's CES, few technologies really lived up to the advance billing. In fact, Microsoft's Kinect and Ford's in-cabin software effort were the only two technologies that really gained traction.
With that in mind, here's what I'm hoping CES 2011 provides in terms of clarity.
Some sort of tablet strategy for every industry player not named Apple. It's really time for the PC industry to put up or shut up when it comes to tablets. Where is the real iPad competition? Android tablets have been so-so at best. Microsoft is a tablet no-show so far as it tries to cram Windows 7 in a new form factor. HP's Palm tablet plans are a mystery. What are Samsung, Motorola and HTC cooking up on the tablet front? Intel and Nvidia aren't off the hook either. Show us the snazzy mobile processors in new designs.
What's the 4G device plan Verizon? It's no secret that Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg is one of the headliners at CES. Hopefully his appearance will deliver some sort of roadmap for the launch of Long-term Evolution devices. Customers are hanging on every word---especially this one. My contract is up, my device is buggy and tired and I need a new phone. However, I'm not signing a 3G contract and locking myself out of LTE for another two years. The Wall Street Journal reports that Motorola will be one of the first out of the gate with an LTE phone at Verizon. In addition, Verizon could also detail its rollout of the iPhone. After all what people will really want at CES will be a signal for their iPhones.
What is HP doing with Palm? Palm has made a habit of delivering some serious surprises at CES. Under HP's rule, Palm is largely a mystery. We need details about the WebOS plan---where is it showing up in HP's stack---as well tablet and smartphone rollouts. Palm's WebOS would look sweet in a tablet---it won't look that way forever.
Google and its partners---Samsung, Acer and the gang---need to show us some slick designs for the Chrome OS. There's potential there, but the pilot hardware is way rough around the edges. It's hard to see the future of the Chromebook and totally exclude hardware. Another item on the Google to-do list: Please explain to us how this Android-Chrome OS intersection is supposed to work.
An admission that this industry doesn't quite know what consumers want when it comes to connected TVs as well as a fix. Google TV was supposed to be a headliner, but the reviews stink. Meanwhile, everyone is talking apps on TV and other cool items. The rub: Consumers are a tough sell. Consumer electronics companies should start from the user and work up. Don't try to hype us into an upgrade cycle only vendors want (3DTV).