There's something strange happening at Consumer Electronics Show 2012 that many pundits -- and, of course, the Apple Fanclub of bloggers and journalists -- pegged as impossible just six months ago. Even I asked "Who killed Google TV?" after Logitech, the first of two launch partners, lost its shirt, pants and shoes on Revue. The peripherals maker gave up on Google TV, leaving Sony to go it alone. In July 2011, I asserted: "There will be a second life for Google TV", but who could have guessed it would be this much?
At CES, television-set makers are simply falling over one another to be a Google TV partner, as judged by the number of announcements so far. I've got to wonder: How much of that is because of Apple? For months, there have been persistent rumors Apple is working on a TV. Naturally, the ridiculous rumor mill has this unannounced consumer electronics gear as being trendsetting -- genre transforming -- all sight unseen. Hold on, someone needs to grab me before I fall over laughing. But fear of anything Apple these days is quite the motivator, particularly if the fruit-logo company might stomp into your entrenched business. Better to adopt Google TV fast than be Apple roadkill.
Leading Chinese E-reader maker Hanvon is the company to watch if you're interested in energy efficient color e-reader display technology. Last year, the company debuted the world's first color e-reader using E Ink's color E Paper display, and today, Qualcomm announced that Hanvon has created the thinnest e-reader yet to use Qualcomm's MEMS-based Mirasol display technology.
We've been eagerly awaiting Mirasol's commercial arrival for two years, and little appeared to change between the 2010 and 2011 Consumer Electronics shows. Both times, Qualcomm turned up with a dummy unit that had no real software to interact with, that simply ran a demo video. This year, it's all changed. There are now three major companies pushing Mirasol e-readers in Asia, and we finally get to see how well they work.
At CES 2012, semiconductor company Marvell has shown up at the center of two major projects that shifted from x86-based systems to ARM-based systems. In both cases, it has also been a project that Intel had withdrawn from: Google TV, and One Laptop Per Child.
Marvell's Google TV platform announcements came quickly and with little forewarning; but its OLPC participation has been long-running and easy to track. At CES 2011, we saw the OLPC XO 1.75 running on Marvell's Armada 610 chipset. The company announced this week that those devices ship worldwide in March 2012.
Microsoft is eager to prove itself in the mobile space, and is putting down $100 at Consumer Electronics Show 2012 betting Windows Phone can "smoke" the competition. Microsoft evangelist Ben Rudolph is roaming halls of the show this week, angling to duel with any willing participant. You win? You get $100 on the spot. You lose? Well, you have to admit defeat at the hands of Microsoft.
You got to admit, at least Microsoft isn't fading away into the CES night without a good fight or two first to prove it's still relevant.
These days, innovation in HDTVs is hard to come by. However, Sony is ready to change the industry with its new crystal LED displays on display this week at Consumer Electronics Show 2012. While the technology is nowhere near ready for production, the Japanese electronics maker made it one of its key announcements during a keynote Monday night.
Sony CEO Howard Stringer saved no rhetorical flourish while describing picture quality: "Your eyes will pop, your mouths will water, you'll tell your friends 'I have seen the future, and it's a Sony'". The company claims the color reproduction is far superior to an LCD television set, the technology powering a significant portion of HDTVs.
There are no more chances for Steve Ballmer. This is the end. His swansong. The final hurrah. Microsoft's CEO stepped onto the Consumer Electronics Show keynote stage for the last time tonight. If my count is right, a Microsoft chief executive has given 13 CES opening keynotes -- with this year's the 12th consecutively. Ballmer's last is his third.
Ballmer was in good form as he donned the stage. Boisterous, cagey but not his usually caged manner -- he typically paces around like a penned up tiger, and he often yells like one growls. Ballmer was subdued tonight, as he took the stage with Ryan Seacrest, who seems to be everywhere these days (not just "American Idol"). Seacrest was an excellent choice for a fireside chat with Ballmer. Many people probably don't remember the TV-show host from his days at CNET. Yeah, CNET. Seacrest co-hosted a tech show.
Before buying Galaxy Nexus last month from Verizon, I considered holding out for Galaxy Note, after hearing confident rumors about AT&T bringing it stateside. The idea of sketching and taking notes on a smartphone appealed. Samsung had created something of a hybrid -- a cross between a smartphone and tablet. Then I saw a Samsung media player on display at Best Buy, with a similar size screen -- 5.3 inches. Galaxy Note is too big for me. Is it for you?
AT&T and Samsung officially announced Galaxy Note LTE -- the third big 4G phone announced today for the carrier, the others being Nokia Lumia 900 and HTC Titan II (technically there were a half-dozen LTEs); all done at Consumer Electronics Show 2012. Galaxy Note has something of an identity crisis, being a phone, mini-tablet and S-pen -- that's stylus to you, bud -- device. The hybrid is meant to be used for drawing as much as touch, and I see it designed for more of a niche market -- unless of course 5.3-inches, and that's just the screen, isn't too big for your pocket.
Currently there are 11 4G LTE phones -- two from AT&T and 9 from Verizon -- available from major US Carriers, and they're all Androids. Even more are coming, some this month, and again they're all Androids. There is no LTE iPhone and until today's HTC Titan II announcement, nothing running a Microsoft operating system. Finally, prospective Windows Phone buyers can get super-fast cellular data. iPhone users are out of luck. Well, maybe. HTC says the LTE Windows Phone is coming to AT&T "in the coming months". Who knows, iPhone 5 LTE could come sooner.
Like its predecessor, Titan II will be available from AT&T, which is good for HTC, Microsoft and Windows Phone. The brawny 4.7-inch-display smartphone will only compete with two other LTE handsets there -- HTC Vivid and Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket. Better to be one of three at AT&T than one of 10+ at Verizon. That's assuming AT&T adds no other LTE smarphones "in the coming months", before Titan II goes on sale. Last week I posted the "7 things I really don't want to see at CES". Among them: Products announced that don't ship for many months later.
CES Press Day is also known as the day of back to back press conferences, when journalists are served a giant hype sundae topped with sprinkles of actual news.
It's an important day for companies to tell the consumer electronics press (and by extension, consumers) what to expect from them for the year, so at every CES, I spend the day darting in and out of rooms and trying to keep up with the deluge of announcements.
There's always the race at the Consumer Electronics Show to be the smallest, the lightest, the thinnest, the biggest. Huawei is following that strategy, debuting the Ascend P1 S on Monday. At 6.68mm thick, it claims to be the thinnest smartphone on the market. For comparison purposes, look at iPhone 4S, which measures in at comparatively stout 9.33mm, or the Galaxy S II, also a little overweight at 8.49mm.
The Ascend runs Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich, and features a 4.3-inch screen with Corning's Gorilla Glass. You have to wonder though if Huawei waited a bit could it have slimmed down the Ascend even more with the new thinner Gorilla Glass 2. Other features include a 1670/1800mAh battery depending on the model, 8-megapixel rear-facing and 1.3-megapixel front-facing cameras, HD picture capabilities and integrated WiFi and Bluetooth.
Move over YouTube. Vimeo is finally making its big mobile splash, and it's way, way overdue. The online video pioneer has ceded too much to Google and, by comparison, latecomer YouTube for too long. Today that changes, with new mobile apps for Android, iPad, Kindle Fire and Windows Phone. Vimeo released an iPhone app 10 months ago.
I downloaded the Android app to Galaxy Nexus and XOOM LTE early this afternoon and must say that I'm impressed. The app is well-organized for video discovery -- much better than YouTube. Not surprisingly, the options are viewing/uploading and options are better for the tablet than the smartphone. Overall, the user interface is clean, uncluttered and responsive.
Corning has made a name for itself in short order in the tech sector, as manufacturers look to the textile maker to produce "indestructible" glass for its gadgets. The Corning, N.Y.-based company on Monday debuted the second generation of its Gorilla Glass product, allowing companies to get the same damage resistance in glass that is 20 percent thinner.
"In response to our customers' drive toward thinner form factors, we designed this new glass to enable meaningful reduction in thickness without sacrificing the outstanding glass performance for which Gorilla Glass has become highly recognized", Corning Specialty Materials head James Steiner says.
One thing will be certain when the dust settles on Consumer Electronics Show 2012: Just how meaningless and pitiful is Microsoft's three-screen strategy. Good riddance, too, as Microsoft pulls out of CES following this year's event. After more than a decade working this three-screen thing -- PC, phone and TV -- Microsoft has taken leadership in the most bizarre way: Showing competitors what they shouldn't do.
Lenovo's bread and butter is the PC. Like all electronics manufacturers the company is finding that diversity is a good growth strategy, however. It embraced Android and the tablet market last summer, and at Consumer Electronics Show it's showing a readiness to enter the competitive HDTV and smartphone sectors in 2012.
Lenovo is the first company to produce an HDTV running Android 4.0 "Ice Cream Sandwich". At 55 inches it's an impressive first outing, while also embracing the 3D capabilities that are the rage in televisions as of late. Of course the company is using a skinned version of ICS, but choosing Android allows for a good deal of flexibility.
As the technology industry gears up for its yearly confab in Las Vegas this week, new data suggests the consumer electronics industry is primed for significant contraction. Research firm NPD says sales fell 5.9 percent in the five weeks ending on Christmas Eve. This data confirms news out of various retailers indicating weak sales in electronics last month.
Sears Holdings used poor sales of consumer electronics in both its Sears and Kmart stores as part of a reason behind closing underperforming locations. Target and Costco warned of disappointing numbers due to slower than expected sales, and Best Buy reported same-store sales down 1.2 percent year-over-year for the month of December.