CES: convergence talk is everywhere

Note: I've had horrible connectivity issues with my computer since yesterday so apologies for the late post.Day one at CES s drawing to a close (with mucha more to come this evening) and it's been a whirlwind of colors, lights, and sound.
Written by Marc Orchant, Contributor
Note: I've had horrible connectivity issues with my computer since yesterday so apologies for the late post.

Day one at CES s drawing to a close (with mucha more to come this evening) and it's been a whirlwind of colors, lights, and sound. If you've never been to a big show like this, the sheer scale of things is difficult to describe. There are three halls at the Las Vegas Convention Center filled with booths that range from the typical trade show twenty foot booth to multi-story constructions with private meeting rooms, cafe areas and observation decks.

The main Microsoft booth is immense, with literally hundreds of stations demonstrating the new Windows Vista and Office 2007 releases, media devices, Tablet PCs, smartphones running Windows Mobile, games and entertainment, and a very large theater area where presentations are running all day long showing the new features in Vista and Office. In addition to the booth area, there are two immense tents set up outside the central hall of the convention center for press to check in for interview appointments and a separate tent to conduct the actual conversations.

After a brisk walk from my hotel to the convention center (the taxi line would have taken longer than the walk – seriously), I grabbed my credentials and headed to the Las Vegas Hilton Theater to catch the keynote by Nokia President and CEO Olli-Pekka Kallasvuo. Over the past few months, I've seen a number of presentations by Nokia executives in a variety of settings and the polish and drama I've come to associate with these talks was every bit as evident today. Kallasvuo echoed a theme I heard repeatedly last month at NokiaWorld in Amsterdam - that the company is committed to a transition from a devices company to an experiences company. The two standout new products Nokia launched at the show certainly reinforce this claim.

  • The N76 is Nokia's long-anticipated entry into the think phone segment of the market long dominated by Motorola and Samsung. The N76, referred to by a number of people hovering around the device in Nokia's tent on the CES grounds as a "RAZR killer" sports all the fit and finish (sorry - couldn't resist the pun) I've come to expect from the company's products, sporting a high resolution camera with Carl Zeiss optics, an integrated music player wth front cover controls and a very cool display behind a mirrored surface, and the requisite metal keypad with a nice rubber overprint to add some tactile feedback and grip. Although the device will be undoubtedly be priced at a premium compared to the commodity item the RAZR has become over time, there's no doubt in my mind that Nokia will extend the line to leverage the form factor in a more affordable model with fewer features.
  • The N800 Internet Tablet is the successor to the 770 model introduced in 2005. Improved in almost every way, the new device sports a faster processor, more built-in memory and greater removable memory capacity, stereo speakers and a new form factor finished in shiny metal with an integrated  metal kickstand. As nice as the feature and architecture enhancements are, the most interesting part of the announcement was the news that Rhapsody streaming music, a Skype client, and a GPS solution from Navicore will all be available for the new device. One of the drawbacks of the original 770 model was the difficulty regular folks have had dealing with installation of software and finding services for the experiences the device is really designed to deliver. Adding the option of subscribing to a service like Rhapsody makes the new N800 a much more desirable portable media device for the average gadget-loving consumer.

I spent quite a bit of time touring Microsoft's booth, hanging in the Tablet PC area for quite some time looking at he new convertible models from Asus and Toshiba as well as number of new UMPC form factors and models that are either being launched or announced at the show. The booth is immense, covering literally half of the hall, and was packed wall-to-wall with people interacting in one-on-one demos of new Visat and Office functionality or watching the ongoing demonstrations going on in the theater area. This afternoon (Tuesday), I'll be meeting up with the Tablet PC community at the Aladdin - MVPs, Microsoft folk, and a number of ISVs will be attendance. I was sorry I wasn't able to attend the inaugural gathering last year at CES and I'm really looking forward to connecting with these folks.

There's much more to come. I've been snapping away capturing some of the sights and sounds of CES in Vegas and will get an image gallery put together as soon as time and bandwidth permit. Right now, I'm off to my next meeting.

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