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Monday, 09 January 2012 14:31

CES 2012 previewed - for consumers and business


The first major tech show of the year is nearly upon us, and with 2012 set to unleash all manner of exciting technologies (and undoubtedly some flops), CES is where we get to see a lot of new tech unveiled first - here's what to expect.

Although some online reports have recently noted that CES is as well known for gadgets exhibited with fanfare that never made it to market or were short-lived as it is for seeing future technology successes unveiled, the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas will nevertheless unleash a tsunami of new and updated tech, will see many business deals done and much tech news generated.

2012 is also Microsoft's last major year, with Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's CEO, starting what will be his final CES keynote at 6.30pm US time on Monday the 9th of January, which for Australians in AEDT (Sydney) time is 1.30pm on Tuesday the 10th.

As per usual, Microsoft will be broadcasting the keynote live at its dedicated CES event page, which is yet another contrast to Apple, which used to broadcast live, but does no longer, letting the tech news sites and blogs of the world engage in their live blogging instead, along with a Ustream or equivalent in audio or video if anyone is organised enough and there's enough outgoing bandwidth.

The 6.30pm start in the US also translates to a much friendlier time for Australians, with interested IT people in various organisations likely already having set aside some time, especially in relatively quiet January, to watch live for a preview into what Microsoft has planned for consumers, businesses and the enterprise next.

CES is a massive tradeshow by anyone's standards, and this year's is set to be one of the biggest ever, and comes at a time of ever more wireless connectivity, ever faster tablet updates, an upcoming new iPad 3, an upcoming new Windows 8 (and all the new hardware that entails), and plenty of fantastic competition.

In the meantime, Windows users have to contend with a several month wait before Windows 8 is ready, and enterprise users will presumably have to wait even longer before their company-supplied computers also make the upgrade.

But as individuals have already shown, they like their own devices and like to bring them with them everywhere - be it home, school or at work.

Respected analysis firm Ovum has come up with some enterprise and consumer expectations for CES 2012, into which will be woven some of my own thoughts and commentary, with the 'bring your own device' the first enterprise topic Ovum has chosen, and the first we'll go with, too.

Obviously the iPad 3 and Windows 8 tablets will be used in businesses whether businesses like it or not, and clearly, IT people will continue having to ensure their networks are up to the task of handling these devices securely.

Ovum expects 'a number of Android related announcements' from big companies we know like Samsung, and 'design' manufacturers many haven't heard of, with special features targeting both consumer cool and enterprise security needs, multiple user accounts for tablets and a device that knows what permissions it has when connected to work, home and other networks.

So, what about all those Ultrabooks - and everything else consumer and business? Please read on to page two!

Then, of course, comes the Ultrabook Army. Years after Apple introduced the MacBook Air, PC makers and Intel have finally caught on that this might be a good idea for PCs, too.

Given that Ultrabooks will largely run Windows 7, and then when it launches, Windows 8, they should do well because they are computers running an operating system that hundreds of millions use in a form factor they've not had before (save by installing Windows onto a MacBook Air).

That strategy worked stunningly for netbooks, only to falter when consumers realised that netbooks really just weren't powerful enough, despite running Windows, and that Atom processors weren't speeding up fast enough either.

Ultrabooks are far slimmer than netbooks, have proper-sized keyboards, trackpads, palm rests and displays, SSD or SSD and HDD hybrid drives, have long battery life and ultra-low voltage versions of Core i3, i5 and i7 processors.

While these ultra-low voltage Core i3/5/7 processors from Intel aren't as fast as their higher-voltage desktop brethren, they're still billions of light years faster than your basic Atom processor, and when as usually coupled with an SSD, absolutely scream performance for the usual variety of personal and business computing tasks you want to perform with it, the things that you want to do.

The fact that performance of these tasks isn't hindered by a slow processor or HDD-only drive along with a much better form-factor than netbooks delivered, alongside running Windows 7 (and being ready to upgrade to Windows 8), my expectation is that they'll do extremely well in 2012 in a variery of ultra form factors.

This must include detachable screens and keyboards as we've seen in the world of Android tablets, not as we've seen in the world of Windows 7 tablets. The screen must detach and be iPad like.

We might also see ultrabooks with the old tablet tradition: a rotating screen that folds over the keyboard, even though this makes for a thicker device. Personally I prefer the first scenario, with the ability to clip the keyboard to the back of the screen - or the front - as desired.

However, as Ovum notes, we'll continue seeing a lot of MacBook Air mimicry, with pricing Ovum expects to be in the US $600 - $700 range. Hopefully this means lower ultrabook prices in Australia too, which would result in a bigger price differential against the cheapest MacBook Air, but these ultrathin and ultralight computers aren't cheap to make.

Ovum also cautions that 'just as 2011 was awash with Android tablets, it is by no means guaranteed that that both presence of ultra-books will translate into market share by year-end 2012'.

That said, ultrabooks and tablets that can convert seamlessly into ultrabooks have been a long time coming, and it has taken Apple to drag the rest of the technology industry into the current design paradigm, something Apple has done very successfully.

Daring Fireball's John Gruber noted about Samsung's liberal borrowing of design ideas from Apple it its Galaxy Tab 10.1 and Galaxy Ace Plus/iPhone 3G lookalike that Apple's Sir Jony (Jonathan) Ive was leading the design teams of two companies, but it reality, it looks like he's leading the design teams of every major PC and smartphone manufacturer on the planet, or at least, a heck of a lot of them, and clearly not at Sony, a company that always goes it own path, much like Apple has done over the years.

Windows 8, the rest of the enterprise thoughts and then consumer tech at CES... on page three, please read on!

Next up for the enterprise world at CES is what Ovum thinks about Windows 8, stating that its analysts 'will be looking for more insight into Windows 8 beyond the 2011 preview and specific information on release dates and form factors, including a hands-on with Samsung's Windows 8 tablet.'

Ovum also notes that it is specifically 'looking at how Microsoft is looking to enable the enterprise to manage and exploit the employee-provisioned laptop trend in Windows 8 and other form factors and deployment scenarios it is considering.'

Interestingly, Ovum then says it wants clarity over whether 'old' apps will 'still run on the new Windows 8 tablets, which has been a source of some confusion the last few months', and it's something I look forward to some clarity on too.

After all, Microsoft has demonstrated Office 2010 running as we know it on an ARM-based notebook when it first announced it would finally be joining the ARM processor bandwagon alongside Intel and AMD processors, but will existing Windows 7 software be easily recompilable or rewritable to run on ARM processors, or will ARM-based Windows 8 tablets need everything to have a Metro interface only, unlike Intel and AMD powered Windows 8 tablets?

We'll learn more tomorrow. Ovum hopes to hear more about applications for its Kinect-based gesture interface in the enterprise, including retail, manufacturing and healthcare, following the release of the Kinect enterprise SDK in 2011' - and I'd like to see more about Kinect for Windows 8 and whether it will be built in to future tablets, desktops, TVs and more - hopefully this year!

Next up on Ovum's enterprise list is Dell, which is expected to launch a 'new strategy for the home market'. Hopefully that involves very cool looking, well built computers and tablets at competitive prices, and Ovum says it 'will be watching to see what the consumer IT angle may be here for the enterprise.'

Just when you thought your 802.11n Wi-Fi network was the bees knees and the fastest around, then comes a new spider to weave a faster wireless network.

Although only a 'pre-standardisation demo', it updates Wi-Fi to deliver 'through-put of wireless local area networking to 1Gbps', and, notes Ovum, while 'ratification is not expected until year end', they expect to 'see router devices this year that will look to anticipate the final protocol and steal a march on the competition.'

Then there's the consumer list, of Ovum's CES 2012 expectations, with some intersection over what we've already covered.

Again, there's tablets, Android tablets running Ice Cream Sandwich, alongside Samsung's Windows 8 tablet - a device that will undoubtedly be improved long before it is actually released, especially given Apple hasn't yet released its iPad 3.

As usual, there's the 'media tech and connected home' push too, but this time with Ultra definition TVs that go well beyond today's HDTVs, more wireless media sharing with DLNA, more OEM and retail partnerships to push content and, of course, lots of the new 2012-generation Google TV.

Ovum expects several 'major device launches' on AT&T, including no doubt a new 4G Windows Phone 7.5-powered Nokia Lumia 800 and other so-called 4G devices. I'm sure we'll see some of those devices on Telstra and others carriers in Australia relatively soon, too.

Ovum also expects to see Mobile DTV stuff, something that streaming seems to handle well enough for now, with Ovum wisely noting that: 'again these initiatives are loaded with execution risk thanks to the ecosystem / business model / OTT competition / consumer demand / spectrum allocation challenges that we have all documented.'

Finally, there's version 2.0 of RIM's Tablet OS, which may or may not also include a Playbook 2 tablet, with RIM's new BlackBerry 10 OS likely to be delayed until Mobile World Congress.

Will any purported iPad 3 cases be found? Or purported iPhone 5 cases? Possibly - along with some other Apple rumours started.

There'll be some hit products everyone goes wow over but, as noted at the start of this article, never actually end up going anywhere.

Whatever happens, there'll be a heck of a lot of tech on display, and it certainly will be interesting to see the cream of the tech rise to the top!


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Alex Zaharov-Reutt

Alex Zaharov-Reutt is iTWire's Technology Editor is one of Australia’s best-known technology journalists and consumer tech experts, Alex has appeared in his capacity as technology expert on all of Australia’s free-to-air and pay TV networks on all the major news and current affairs programs, on commercial and public radio, and technology, lifestyle and reality TV shows. Visit Alex at Twitter here.

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