OPINION

Will This CES Be the Last?

Well, this is CES week, and I am eagerly waiting to fly to Las Vegas, participate in the Tiger Build Your Own PC race, and spend the following three weeks relearning how to walk. This year should be interesting because I’m getting weekly notices that the hotels are lowering room rates, and one of the vendors is letting me use one of its pre-paid rooms for free.

This suggests a show like the last Comdex where I’ll actually have a great time but folks will wonder whether it is the last CES. This week I’ll talk about what I expect to see, and next week I’ll talk about what really surprised me at the show and, for its sake, we’ll hope Apple doesn’t steal the show’s thunder with its last Macworld.

Almost every week I do a product of the week, and I’ll list my favorite product of the year this week and start next with my favorite product from CES.

The Connected Home

One of the big trends I’m already seeing in the pre-briefs is the idea of the connected home. For a long time, folks have been talking about this idea of having your stuff anyplace you wanted to watch and listen to it, and, up until now, the closest most got was carrying their iPods around with them from room to room. Well, this year, we will see a bunch of nearly ready technologies which should show up in products by year end.

Currently, the cream of the crop for music is the Sonos system, which does the best job of moving audio around the house but doesn’t deal with video and the best dual mode system is Kaleidescape, which, though incredibly expensive, is what folks like George Lucas use to enjoy their media. Well, in 2009, we will finally see products from a variety vendors who promise to not only move audio but high definition video around the house legally.

This, I expect, will be a huge benefit to those that have discovered that wiring HDTVs is a big pain and are annoyed that they can currently no longer start watching a time-delayed show in the living room and finish in the bedroom. At the core of this will be the next generation of home media servers or hubs, which centralize your stuff, provide it securely to you over the Web, and move it around the home to your media extender, Xbox or PS3.

Connected Gadgets Proliferate

I’m expecting to see a lot more stuff that connects in one way or another to the Web to get updates, move files, or to make them more useful. Leading this charge will be portable GPS (Global Positioning System) products, which started last year to become wireless. But those that were wireless were often the most expensive of any line and most couldn’t afford them.

If there is one overarching trend to consumer electronics in 2009, it is affordability, and this will be the big push for connected GPS systems as we’ll see a bunch that drop into the sub-US$300 range and even a few that drop below $200. Granted, there will likely be a nominal monthly charge for the wireless service, but the result will be GPS devices that will update themselves for traffic, weather and even be able to report lunchtime specials.

But there will be more connected MP3 players like the iPod touch and Slacker G2, more connected car radios, and even the likelihood of more connected digital cameras. TVs are getting connected as well, and this may be the first big move toward TVs that have Internet connections rather that tuners.

TVs Go LED

Speaking of TVs I’m seeing a lot of buzz on new and more affordable LED backlit TVs. These promise brighter pictures, longer service lives, lower energy consumption and potentially faster refresh rates. In addition, I’m expecting sharper pictures, brighter colors and a few more OLED-based sets though I remain skeptical on OLED because panel yields have been horrid and initial sets’ color quality has degraded badly in just 12 months of use. I’m still wondering if OLED is actually something that will work for TVs.

As always, we’ll have a few truly gigantic sets that few can afford and even fewer will be able to find walls big enough to hold, but they will be fun to drool over regardless. I think this will be the first time we’ll be able to consider using some of these sets like we do windows and, with prices continuing to drop sharply, I wonder how many folks will think about framing several in a room and creating the impression of a room that can be anyplace in time and space. Costs for some LCD and plasma TVs are getting down to a point where they rival high-end windows and all it will take is a little imagination and a back end of views that can be realistically streamed to create the illusion of a room that can be anyplace.

Power Conservation

Speaking of things that use a lot less power, this is an early theme I’m seeing across a number of products. A huge effort to reduce the amount of standby power a large number of devices use when they are not in use has been permeating the technology industry for some time and it is expected to bear fruit at CES in a variety of products.

Greener power supplies and less thirsty offerings will be highlighted in a variety of entertainment devices and appliances, and it is a common question, as folks bring things in for review, on just how green the device is. This speaks as much to a consumer desire to save money as it does to lowering people’s carbon footprint, but green in 2009 will be in when it comes to conservation and, I expect, the first wave will be at CES.

Windows 7 and Hyperspace

CES will be the coming out party for Microsoft’s Windows 7 and Phoenix Technology’s Linux-based Hyperspace. I’ll talk about both next week, so this is just a teaser as each will be revolutionary in their own unique way.

Product of the Year

I really agonized over this during the holidays, as there were clearly some amazing products like the Lenovo X301 — the best Laptop I’ve ever used, the Slacker G2 — the best MP3 player, and the HP generation 2 TouchSmart — the only all-in-one to ever beat Apple. There were two other products I considered; the Steelcase Walkstation treadmill desk, because it may have actually saved my life, and the Toto Neorest toilet because, well I’m a guy, and there is something about a great tech toilet I found compelling. What married guy can’t like something that automatically lowers the seat and power flushes?

But there was one product I just couldn’t live without in 2008. I would have a fit if I left it behind, and it was on every plane trip I took, and it often drew a crowd in many of the places I used it, even though it wasn’t that noticeable. People would come up and ask me about it and tell me they just had to have one, and even my wife (who really doesn’t like tech that much) wanted one for Christmas. Evidently, it sold out in December, so a lot of those folks were serious about what they wanted.

It was the Amazon Kindle. I’ve read nearly 30 books on this product in 2008, and it seldom leaves my side. I really enjoy reading science fiction and had gotten out of the habit because I’d grown tired of lugging lots of books on trips and instead switched to watching mind-numbing videos. So, because it is he only device I got in 2008 that I literally would have a hard time living without, the Kindle is my product of the year, and I can hardly wait until the generation 2 comes out later this year.


Rob Enderle is a TechNewsWorld columnist and the principal analyst for the Enderle Group, a consultancy that focuses on personal technology products and trends.


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