The annual Consumer Electronics Show will open on Thursday and for the second year in row we can expect that digital reading and an array of tablets, dedicated e-readers and other reading-optional mobile devices—including an ever growing list of gadgets running Google’s Android OS—will grab a major share of the tech headlines coming out of the Las Vegas convention. CES lists over 120 firms offering e-book devices or services and the tech press predicts as many as 80 tablet devices will be unveiled this year.
The annual trade show is expected to draw about 120,000 attendees and is the primary platform for launching all manner of devices, gadgets and appliances that the American consumer will put to use in the coming year. This year, PW will report live from the Convention Center in Las Vegas beginning Friday. Much like last year, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will give the Wednesday evening keynote address and the tech press is predicting a Microsoft tablet computing redux: last year Ballmer kicked off the show by presenting the HP Slate, a tablet computing device developed by Hewlett-Packard and running the Windows 7 OS that never quite showed up in the marketplace. A year later, Apple’s iPad rules the incipient tablet marketplace; HP has acquired Palm (and it’s much admired operating system WebOS) and is rumored be planning its own line of tablets and handheld devices powered by Palm’s WebOS platform.
What a difference a year makes in an overheated digital reader and computing market. Nevertheless, Microsoft has been riding high after receiving pretty good reviews on its upgraded Windows 7 and now Windows Phone 7 operating systems and the tech press is looking for Ballmer and Microsoft to offer a variety of tablets, including either a 10” or 7” tablet, built by Samsung and running Windows 7.
CES is a place to look for technical innovation. Pocketbook USA, a Hong Kong based e-reader manufacturer, has released a “mirasol” e-reader featuring an innovative new screen technology that combines the best of backlit LCD and nonreflective e-ink screens—Mirosol devices are e-ink devices that feature full color nonreflective screens (yes, color screens you can read on the beach) and low power consumption, as well as supporting video. Engadget reports the company has a suite of about 7 devices (among them a 7” touchscreen with wi-fi running Android 2.0) some screens need a stylus, some don’t. We plan to make a stop at the Pocketbook booth.
But Android, Google’s mobile phone operating systems, is likely to be the “It” platform coming out of this year’s CES. Every other manufacturer seems to be releasing a tablet running some variation on Android—2.2 (called Froyo); 2.4 (Honeycomb, which is optimized for tablets and just reaching the market) and 3.0 (Gingerbread, a major upgrade likely to come in 2011)—including some from unlikely sources. Tech blogs Engadet, Gizmodo and other blogs are reporting that Vizio, a screen and display manufacturer noted for inexpensive flat-screen TVs, is likely to unveil the Via tablet, an 8”, wi-fi enabled tablet running some form of Android, as well as a 4” Via Phone, after spotting the unidentified device in a Vizio commercial during the Rose Bowl.
After a year-long tease about producing its own suite of aggressively priced digital readers, Copia, a newly launched social media driven, e-book retailing platform, decided instead to partner with other device manufacturers to bundle its software. Copia will announce the manufacturing partners that will issue its software on their machines and the company has even produced a pretty funny video promotion on YouTube to mark the release of its software. Tech blogs expect electronics manufacturer Sharp to present its Galapagos tablets/e-readers with 5.5” (optimized for books) and 10.8” (optimized for magazines) screens, although the devices will be released in Asia first. NEC is said to be jumping on the dual screen bandwagon, with its “Cloud Communicator,” a 7” wi-fi enabled tablet running the Android OS.
Motorola is attracting attention for a “teaser” video that offers a tongue in cheek history of the “tablet” starting with the stone age and ending in a Motorola mystery device that is said to be one of two tablets (7” and 10” screens) running android 2.4 or Honeycomb, which would make them among the first tablets to run the Android version that is optimized for tablets. Phone manufacturer HTC is also rumored to be offering a device of some kind, said to be called Scribe, that is also likely to run on Honeycomb.
RIM is presenting the Blackberry Playbook, a 7” Tablet running a “Blackberry Tablet OS,” and is said to priced under $500, slated for release in Spring 2011 and definitely aimed at competing with the Apple iPad. Samsung is riding high with the release of The Galaxy Tab, a 7” device wi-fi/3G and running Adnroid that is already available in the U.S. market through mobile carriers like Sprint and T-Mobile. Samsung is also getting traction for producing the aforementioned mystery tablet device for Microsoft that will likely be unveiled at CES. The company is also turning heads with its Galaxy Player, an iPod Touch-like device (4” screen, Wi-fi, Android 2.2) that features Android Market apps and is twinned with the Galaxy S, Samsung’s popular smartphone/iPhone competitor. Asus, the Taiwan-based computer manufacturer, is said to planning to present about four different tablets; Toshiba is showcasing 3 tablets, each one running a different operating system (Android, Chrome and Windows 7). We’ll stop here. A list of cool stuff at CES could go on forever.
So check this space on Friday and over the weekend for more information about pricing and release dates and look for PW tweets and photos directly from the floor at CES in Las Vegas. At least when it comes to cool consumer technology, what happens in Vegas won’t stay there.