CES 2012 – Day One

  • Lots of glitz, negligible substance
  • Tablets, mobiles and modems
  • The releases from Day One of the Consumer Electronics Show. Las Vegas Jan 10 - 13, 2012

The first 24 hours of CES are usually the most productive, with Day 2 offering a chance for everyone to calm down and question whether anyone really needs a 7 foot tall, 3D flatscreen with 4 times the definition of today’s hi-def sets. The answer is no.

Day 3 will ramp up again, with the big manufacturers saving their most forward-thinking prototypes for the end of the show. For now, let’s take a look at the Day 1 releases that pertain to the mobile and broadband worlds:

Broadband

You might not think there’s much room to move in the world of Broadband technology, at least not at a consumer level. You might be surprised! Amped Wireless have started releasing a range of Wi-Fi routers that can maintain max speeds at distances up to 3km. That is not a typo –three kilometres.  The possibilities with this type of tech are endless, and especially relevant to countries like Australia, which has rich world expectations but some third world hurdles to overcome (namely, massive long distances with little infrastructure in between). Imagine a future where one modem could support 50 homes, without losing speed! Long range Wi-Fi modems and new Wi-Fi standards will make this possible in the very near future.

Another interesting development is an announcement by US company ViaSat that they will begin offering direct satellite internet services at 12Mbps, for US rural consumers. Here in Oz, The National Broadband Network will have to provide satellite to a little under 1% of the population, once the rollout of their network is complete. It’s at least nice to know that there are companies still invested in satellite broadband technology. The more people get on board, the cheaper it will be.

Tablets

A wave of Android powered tablets have been released, though very few will be sporting 3G (or 4G) capabilities.  This isn’t surprising. Recent reports published by BetaNews in the US have shown that when a tablet offers Wi-Fi only or Wifi + 3G, the Wi-Fi only models outsell the latter by a ratio of 3 to 1. Wi-Fi models tend to be cheaper, and 3G models often attract 2 year contracts with mobile phone providers. People re-calculate how they’ll actually be using the tablet, and also take into account the abundance of free Wi-Fi at cafes and other public places. Many tablet buyers also already have smartphones, which are capable of “tethering” their own existing connections from their smartphones to their tablets. Most companies sought to charge for this or bar it altogether at first, but attracted negative attention from consumer watchdog groups, who rightly advocated that if a customer buys a phone and a plan, they can use it however they want. Nowadays, none of the Australian carriers bother to charge or disable tethering.

So with mobile-internet tablets likely to become a thing of the past, we might start to see low cost Android powered tablets offered as incentives to buy new smartphones on long term contracts, much like how video game consoles and mp3 players were used a few years ago. Optus already offer a free BlackBerry Playbook tablet on some plans, when buying the BlackBerry Torch on a 24 month contract.
The best (or most interesting) of the tablets released at CES so far include the ViewSonic e70, a not-very-impressive basic tablet that manages to be only $170 USD, and Vizio’s M-Series of Android tablets. Vizio has, until now, been seen as a cheap manufacturer of televisions, a California-based chassis builder with Taiwanese components. At CES this year, they’ve stunned everyone with a host of TVs, tablets, laptops and all-in-one desktop PCs with cutting edge design, solid engineering and top-of-the-line specs. Their tablets will run the latest version of Android with no Vizio software over the top – immediately vaulting them to the head of the pack for lovers of the “pure” Google experience. Vizio have avoided the Australian market until now, but tablets travel more far and wide than TVs. We might be seeing some of this goodness downunder this year.

Phones

Where to begin? The title of ‘World’s Thinnest”is being renewed hourly. Nokia have debuted the Lumia 900 Windows Phone, a decent little upgrade from the Lumia 800 – which isn’t widely available yet. Motorola have made some good steps lately, with their Android-powered RAZR smartphone which went on sale in late 2011, and now they’ve introduced the DROID 4. For those who haven’t seen it, the DROID series of Motorola phones were keyboard based Android phones, which disappeared once Samsung and HTC started releasing new Android phones every few weeks. The DROID 4 tries to do both keyboard and touch interface, all packed into a space-age slick form factor. It looks good, with a laser-cut aluminium keyboard, instead of the usual plastic pebbles. Samsung is promoting the Galaxy Note, a 5.3 inch (13.5cm) screened behemoth that comes with a smart stylus that does more than just scribble. This part tablet, part phone device offers something quite new and different, and is expected to release in Australia later this year.

Samsung also felt comfortable enough to release a statement that it is now the official king of mobile, or some such, after shipping more handsets by revenue than Nokia in the last year. Samsung expects to ship more units than Nokia as well, in the year ahead. Nokia might position itself as the Windows Phone champion, in contrast to Samsung’s Android offerings, but it should be remembered that Samsung has their OMNIA line of phones, primed to run Windows Phone. Nokia may not have enough going on to stop Samsung from dominating the market.

Sony Ericsson has confusingly released new Xperia handsets, the Ion and Arc, under different brand names. Sony bought out Ericsson’s interest in their joint venture last October, so the Sony Ericsson Arc might be the last co-branded handset. The Sony (Only Sony) Ion boasts the brand names Cybershot (camera), Bravia (Screen) and PlayStation (Gaming) in the one device. Sony also have a smartwatch which will notify you when you have a call or message. Meh. This has been tried before, and there’s no proof yet that people have become too lazy to reach into their pockets. Australia has been a good market for Sony Ericsson, so expect these handsets to arrive some time soon.

Last but not least – Corning has demonstrated their next generation of Gorilla Glass, the super durable material currently covering many smartphone and tablet screens. Gorilla Glass 2 is 20% thinner with the same strength, capable of staying intact even when hit with a 55 kilo weight. Goodbye screen protectors!

That’s all for Day One. We’ll be back after the show for more updates!