The 'CES curse?' Gadget show has poor record

By Peter Svensson

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 6 2012 12:00 p.m. MST

After all, attendance is up. The show is set for its third year of growth from the recession-stripped nadir of 2009 and could touch the record numbers hit in 2006.

That matters because the attendees are all industry people. Consumers aren't allowed in. Having everyone who matters in Vegas for a couple of days in the year makes it easy to set up face-to-face meetings that would take weeks to organize otherwise. In that context, it matters less that the show hasn't been a great staging ground for new products.

"I'm pretty comfortable that we're the most important event for technology in the world," Shapiro said. "It's difficult to come out with someone really important who's not there."

Apple CEO Tim Cook's absence may make him the exception. His predecessor, Steve Jobs, was certainly never caught loitering on the show floor. But the company contingent will probably be strong. Last year, the Apple's retail store division alone sent 159 people, according to the CEA.

So what potential flops will be hyped at the show this year?

— Windows 8 will be an important new product in 2012, but the late-year launch means PC and tablet makers hoping for a CES boost have to wait.

The new operating system is built for touch screens, the kind made popular by iPhones and iPads. Windows 8 will also run on cellphone-style processing chips, the type used in most tablets. That should improve battery life considerably over the PC-type chips that Windows runs on today. However, many analysts believe Microsoft has already lost this market to Apple.

— As a stopgap, PC makers will show off ultrabooks. They're essentially Windows versions of the MacBook Air laptop, which uses chips instead of a spinning hard drive for storage. That makes the machines lighter and thinner but also more expensive. Expectations for ultrabooks are modest — Gary Balter at Credit Suisse believes they could make up 10 percent of laptops sales this year.

— Having failed to catch the iPad wave last year with $500 tablets, some tablet makers will try to catch the Kindle Fire wave with smaller, cheaper tablets. But the profit margins are tiny at that price, so bigger Asian manufacturers are setting their sights on the tablet version of Windows 8, hoping it will provide them better opportunities, said Rhoda Alexander, an analyst at IHS iSuppli.

— TV makers will be talking about "smart," Internet-connected sets, but they're not exactly new.

However, we'll see the first full-size TVs that use organic light-emitting diodes in place of LCDs. LG Electronics has confirmed that it will be showing off a 55-inch set, to be sold late in the year. The price hasn't been disclosed, but is likely to be high. OLED sets can be painfully thin — in LG's case, less than a third of an inch — and should boast improved image quality as well.

We'll also see TVs that are "smart" in the sense that they respond to gestures or spoken commands. However, until cable set-top boxes get smart, too, we won't be able to abandon remotes.

Paul Gagnon, an analyst at DisplaySearch, said TV manufacturers are trying to get ahead of Apple. He and other analysts believe the company is working on a TV set that could be introduced this year. Some speculate that "Siri," the voice-control application in the latest iPhone, is a dry run for a voice-controlled TV.

Apple hasn't commented on the speculation. It has agreements with Hollywood studios for sales and rentals of movies through iTunes, but to create a TV that's unmistakably "Apple," it would likely require broader agreements with content providers, such as rights to stream live TV. Even Apple might not be able to challenge the content industry's way of business.

"They've been able to break down those digital barriers with music and other applications, but TV is going to be one of the tougher areas," Gagnon said.

In other words, an Apple TV could be an expensive flop. Staying away from CES is no guarantee for success.

Peter Svensson can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/petersvensson

Online:

http://cesweb.org

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