The Consumer Electronics Show kicks off Tuesday, playing host to more than 150,000 electronics-savvy, gadget-obsessed techies in Las Vegas.
Companies including Microsoft (MSFT), Samsung, LG, and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) will be wowing spectators with their latest in home connectivity, mobile devices, and computing at this year's show. Since 1967, CES has been the premiere venue for technology giants to show off their latest innovations, and this year the venue -- the Las Vegas Convention Center -- may top its all-time record for exhibit space used of 1.85 million square feet.
Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Electronics Association, says that one exciting element of this year’s show is that the Photo Marketing Association (PMA) has combined its annual conference with CES, which will add more than 500 new exhibitors.
“We are thrilled that we’ve joined forces, and we’re interested to see what partnerships may come out of it,” Shapiro says.
PMA said a statement that the convergence of digital imaging and consumer electronics makes CES is the “ideal venue” to exhibit .
“PMA@CES will bring a breadth and depth of photo-specific products and services that CES attendees would not have otherwise been able to experience,” the group said.
Another new addition to this year’s CES is all about entrepreneurs. In partnership with the National Science Foundation, CES will host “Eureka Park,” a separate section featuring more than 100 small businesses with new ideas about robotics, transportation and energy efficiency.
“That’s always been the goal of CES, to expose new ideas and new products to retailers and investors,” says Shapiro. “We are delighted to put a spotlight on companies that are just getting off the ground. That’s where you find the world-changing ideas.”
Shapiro says this year’s potentially world-changing innovations come from all walks of technology life. One item expected to be popular throughout the show is the “ultrabook,” an ultra-thin laptop (usually encased in a brushed aluminum body) with no optical drive. Shapiro says he expects between 30 and 50 ultrabooks to be launched at CES, most all of them with price points under $1,000.
Jonathan Geller, president and editor-in-chief of BGR.com (Boy Genius Report), says that the ultrabooks on the scene this year are the PC’s answer to Apple’s Macbook Air. Companies expected to launch ultrabooks include HP, Dell (DELL), Acer, Asus, Toshiba, and Lenovo.
“All of these were really inspired by Intel’s initiative to gather up a bunch of manufacturers and say, ‘Netbooks aren’t working. We need a competitor to the Macbook Air,’”says Geller. “And if what we’re seeing at CES this year is any indication, it worked.”
Other hot areas to watch this year include the tablet and smartphone space, says Geller, pointing to rumors that AT&T (T) may launch a waterproof tablet at CES this year.
“Last year we saw tablets, but this year we are seeing so much more put into the tablets,” he says. “We’re seeing wireless speakers, a lot of wi-fi connectivity, specialized headphones and all sorts of other products you can use in conjunction with your tablets.”
The challenge for tablet makers, Geller says, is to figure out what consumers want. For now, the Apple iPad has around 75% of the market share for tablets, he estimates.
“The problem is that a lot of people don’t want a tablet, they want an iPad. Android tablets are starting to catch up in hardware and in software, so people will start buying more, but Apple (AAPL) still has the tablet market cornered,” Geller says.
With an estimated 20,000 new products expected to launch at this year’s CES, Geller says there’s bound to be a few flops. One highly-hyped product from last year’s show that has yet to take off is 3-D TV, Geller says, because wearing glasses to watch TV is still “a strange concept.”
“It’s one thing to go see one or two 3-D movies a year in the theatre, but in the home you have to put on the glasses and there’s a limited amount of 3-D material,” says Geller. “What if you have four pairs of glasses and seven friends who come over? It doesn’t work.”
CEA’s Shapiro says that even though some 3-D users may find wearing glasses to watch TV a little uncomfortable, new technology is on the rise that will eliminate the need for glasses completely.
“There are solutions coming right now that don’t require glasses at all. They trick the eyes and have all sorts of different ways of doing it,” Shapiro says. “In 10 years we will have holographs and you will be completely immersed in your experiences, but along the way you’ll have to wear things like glasses, but the end goal is to make it more comfortable, seamless.”
Shapiro says that the more “comfortable” the 3-D experience becomes, the more popular the technology.
And as for “the next big thing,” Shapiro and Geller both point to OLED-TVs. These organic light-emitting diode TVs have screens one-sixteenth of an inch thick and function without a backlight.
“It’s like hanging a painting on a wall,” says Geller. “The problem is that at $5,000 a pop, they’re out of reach for most consumers for at least the next two years.”