The annual Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas took place from Jan. 6 to 9 this year, with all the leading companies previewing technology and games that are supposed to be on their way to the market in the coming year. Some products will be delayed, some will be scrapped, but the best ideas always make it through somehow.
The most recent CES show has been summed as the "me too" year. In 2010, it was all about new 3D televisions, and 2011 is about the fact that other companies are making 3D TVs. Companies like Motorola and RIM also showcased their entries into the suddenly crowded tablet market (over 100 new models on display this year).
The good news is that competition breeds discounts, and more 3DTVs on the market means cheaper 3DTVs if you're in that particular market. More tablets also means more choice - you're not locked into Apple and the App Store, or into a picture of a Lego piece where a Flash video should appear when you're surfing the Web.
For me, the best part about CES is the surprises. Blu-ray made its first appearance at CES, as did HD plasma televisions and 3DTVs. Intel unveiled its i7 and i3 chips at CES. Microsoft showed off the original Xbox. Harmonix showed off Guitar Hero for the first time.
This year there were a number of interesting surprises as well. Here are some of my favourites:
The electric Ford Focus - People like Ford a lot right now. Dependable and affordable, with lots of choice and decent looks if you care about that sort of thing. While the company's Focus is hugely popular, Ford dropped into CES to show off a new all-electric Focus that should be available in 2012. The car will feature Microsoft's MyFord Touch system, which is insanely popular, and the ability to recharge in four short hours - almost twice as fast as the Nissan Leaf or GM Volt, whit a charger that costs 75 per cent as much. No official range yet, but here's hoping it's built for the long haul.
Microsoft Windows 8 - Microsoft's follow-up to the popular Windows 7 operating system is still over a year away from the market, but a version on display at CES turned a lot of heads. One reason is the announcement that Microsoft will release a version for ARM processors - a system-on-a-chip approach that combines processor, memory and graphics on a single low power, low heat and integrated chip. Basically, this gives you the ability to run Windows 8 and any software it supports, on a phone, tablet or other device, providing there's enough memory for it. Given the pace of technology, that probably won't be an issue.
The Chumby 8 - The Chumby has a lot of fans, replacing your alarm clock/kitchen clock with a small touch computer that can stream music, give you news, weather, and other information through RSS feeds, lets you check in with social networking sites and more. It's not a computer, but it lets you access all kinds of web content in a simple, affordable way.
Nvidia/Lenovo screens - Lenovo and Nvidia teamed up to create a line of stereoscopic 3D computer screens for 3D computer gaming, with built in graphics processors and HD. To go with it, they also assembled a 3D gaming desktop tower to power that 3D experience.
Android 3 - I've seen a lot of Android phones and devices by now, and all I can say is that the experience differs wildly from gadget to gadget. There are literally a dozen versions of it out there, many overlaid with an interface designed by whatever company is selling the phone/tablet/etc. A Sony Xperia looks different from an HTC Droid, for example. At CES, Google showed off Android 3, which could cut through the mess and reunify the Android experience for millions of users.
The Nike+ SportWatch - A watch with built-in GPS to track you while you run, and will also track your data - bugging you when you forget to run and encouraging you to run faster.
Samsung's 9 Series Laptops - A PC competitor to Apple's MacBook Air is thinner, lighter and arguably more powerful as well. It's also more expensive, but if you're dropping $1,400 on a laptop these days what's an extra $200?
Spot Connect - This product will be of interest to Whistler's backcountry crowd, turning any smartphone into a satellite phone with GPS capability. The cost is $170, plus you'll need to spend around $100 a year for a satellite subscription, but it could save your life. And you won't have to carry around three devices (phone, satellite phone and GPS) any longer.
Oxygen Audio - While a lot of cars have docks and connectors for iPhones, Oxygen Audio's O'Car deck lets your iPhone or iPod become your stereo. For $350, you can use your phone interface to access music, control volume, navigate by GPS, call hands-free or using a Bluetooth headset and more.
For more CES news, visit www.cesweb.org.