The first week of the new year almost always means one thing to the tech community: A flight to Las Vegas, for immersion in the sensory overload that is the Consumer Electronics Show.
Last year, two things were big. Big meaning everywhere: TV widgets (what cable people call “interactive TV”) and 3-D TV.
This year, because consumer-electronics makers fervently wish for 3-D TV to be the new HDTV, expect another 3-D melee.
Two new categories of utter hullaballoo this year: All things Android, and the nomenclature mashup that is Web tablets, e-readers, and netbooks.
First, some context. If you could look at the contraptions of CES as a whole, from above — like those shots of the Earth from the Hubble telescope — you’d see a glow of action and noise at the end points of the network.
That’s because 2010 marks the 14th year of broadband connectivity, from a growing list of wired and wireless providers. Pile on the blessing and curse of Moore’s law, which dictates vast improvements in chip design. So, better graphics, faster processors, and bigger memory, in form factors that keep shrinking.
Now more than ever, the end points of the broadband plant glow with an army of gadgets. The name of the game in CE is to bundle stuff together to see what sticks. (PC World recently put out a list of worst bundlings; my personal favorite was the combination tazer holster/MP3 player.)
The tablet/netbook/e-reader fray is similar. These are screens, optimized for different purposes — reading a book, watching a video. Their innards are similar: a thin screen, sharp graphics and processors equipped to interpret fingertip commands.
E-readers are single-purpose machines (reading), all seeking to put a dent in Amazon’s Kindle. The tablet buzz ripples with what Apple will reveal, supposedly a few weeks after CES. Netbooks are cheap, small laptops, which get their services from “the cloud.”
Speaking of Apple: Watch for a heavy applications focus at the 2010 CES. New this year is the “iLounge,” a sort of holding pen for iPhone stuff. (This hasn’t happened before mostly because MacWorld, the big Apple show, overlapped with CES.)
On the Android front, it’s all about people making phones based on the Google operating system for mobile devices. Google’s own such gadget, dubbed Nexus One and linked to T-Mobile for connectivity, was doled out as Christmas presents to Google employees, and will supposedly debut at CES. Watch for dozens of other players to elbow in as alternatives to the iPhone.
The trick, as bandwidth providers, is to figure out how to service the jumble of end points. The even bigger trick is to establish how to be “open” while being vigilant that “open” is not synonymous with “free.”
Whoever figures that out, wins.