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CES 2011 Fearless Forecasts

Posted: 04 Jan 2011 ?? ?Print Version ?Bookmark and Share

Keywords:CES? tablets? consumer electronics?

Tablets, home-networked TVs, hybrid home networks, home automation and Android are among Rick Merritt's top picks in his forecast for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) 2011 in Las Vegas next week.

I'll be cooling my heels in Silicon Valley while my colleagues burn through shoe leather covering the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas next week. But I can't resist speculating what trends will be big at the supersized show I have attended for several years.

So here are nine predictions for CES 2011. I welcome you to share yours in a comment below.

1. Tablets everywhere

Everybody will have their version of an iPad on display at CES, including Acer, Dell (with a system already found in the FCC approval queue), Lenovo and HP. They will use combinations of every mobile CPU and OS out there, giving everyone a chance to crow about having a design win in a zero million-unit system.

The trend is another sign we are in the midst of a mobile computing renaissance. Tablets are sucking up an increasing amount of the creative juice in the sector as they turn everything from GPS systems to e-readers into apps.

I don't expect any new systems that will break into the top tier where Samsung distantly follows Apple. The leaders in this race are already far down the track and doing a great job.

Lenovo, for example, said it will show a tablet at CES, however its cred as a mobile innovator was somewhat compromised when it pulled back its Skylight Linux smartbook using the Qualcomm Snapdragon it unveiled with great fanfare last year, claiming it was being redesigned for Google Android. We're still waiting on its return.

2. TVs tune into the home net

After showing last year whole product families with built-in stereo 3-D and Web connectivity, TV makers don't have many new bells and whistles to add in 2011. The one new wrinkle that may appear down low in the spec sheet is broader support for built-in home networking.

Expect 802.11n Wi-Fi clients to be the primary winner.? But it will be interesting to see whether any TV makers roil in support for powerline communications now that the IEEE 1901 group has forged a standard of sorts for the sector.

Probably the brunt of TVs will continue to take the easy route out and just provide and Ethernet jack, bump up display refresh rates to 240 Hz and show technology demos in their suites of glasses-free 3-D systems that won't debut in a big way for several years.

With GoogleTV pulling the plug on a big CES roll out, the Web TV area will continue to be a free-for-all through 2011. Yahoo will step into the void as the leader, but the truth is the Web will continue to be served up to TVs through a variety of software interfaces for years.

3. Hybrid home networks debut

Peace will break out this year in the home network wars that have raged at CES for a decade. Vendors will trip over each other to proclaim old foes are their closest partners as they show merged wireless/wired designs aimed to connect any service to any device anywhere in the home.

Atheros and Broadcom will compete to tell the story about hybrid Wi-Fi and HomePlug powerline systems powered by their chips. Marvell may chime in here too with the technology it acquired from DS2.

Entropic Communications likely will show new designs based on its MoCA technology coupled with Wi-Fi. Sigma Designs will tell its own story about Home Phoneline and powerline nets compliant with the new ITU standard.

If you don't have a partner find one soon. The dance has started.

4. Home automation fights for control

Zigbee, Z-Wave and a handful of other network options will continue to tout the arrival of home control networks. Indeed carriers such as Verizon are getting interested in delivering such services, but it's a priority still buried on their to-do lists far below supporting Wi-Fi, tablets and netbooks.

More than three decades after the debut of X10, home automation is still one of the many someday-emerging markets showcased at CES.

5. Digital home still off the grid

Add consumer smart grid systems and networks to the list of emerging sectors at CES. There will be more noise than ever about boxes and services that can monitor home energy consumption and speak to your soon-to-arrive Zigbee smart meter.

But there are a lot of pieces of this puzzle yet to fall into place ranging from approvals at public utility commissions to consumer education. That said, it will be worth watching for real shipping versions of energy-hogging white goods like refrigerators and dryers with built in networking for the so-called home area network. You probably will be able to count on one hand the number of systems at CES 2011.

6. Android everywhere

We've known for some time that engineers are moving in droves to Android as the de facto mobile Linux standard for everything from smartphones to set-top boxes. This year the CES show floor should be rife with systems displaying the little green robot. I'd love to hear stories and see pictures of some of the more off-beat Android devices at CES 2011.

Meanwhile, Google's other mobile initiative, Chrome OS, will be approximately nowhere at the mega Vegas gathering. The recent announcement of a beta testers program for a Chrome OS notebook was a shot across the main bow of Microsoft�and a testament to the fact that Google's "nothing but Net" computing strategy has a few hurdles yet to climb.

7. Microsoft embraces ARM

We've had Windows CE (aka "Wince") for the embedded world for years. At CES 2011 Microsoft is said to be preparing something more, probably targeting the tablet.

I'm betting it�s a version of Windows Phone 7 for larger screens with an optimized e-reader app and x86 support, but I've been wrong before. What I am certain of, however, is this new OS will make more of a little plunk than a big splash at CES given Apple's strong leadership in defining the tablet vision and Microsoft's poor track record in this sector. Anybody remember Windows for Pen Computing?

8. Here comes LTE

Verizon will attempt to throw some kerosene on the mobile computing fire at an event celebrating its new wireless service. LTE is not exactly head-and-shoulders above the WiMax service Sprint has rolled out or the advanced CDMA service over at AT&T, but it is the wave (literally) of the cellular future.

Apple is expected to announce an iPhone for Verizon's LTE service in 2011, but it's likely to come not amid the noise of CES but instead at the time and place of Steve Jobs' own choosing. Nevertheless, the reality of Verizon's LTE and the rumors of an iPhone 5 will likely loom large in the Vegas desert.

9. Hybrid x86 wars begin

Advanced Micro Devices and Intel will fire off competing volleys of processors using graphics and x86 cores on the same die. They have been telegraphing those plans for at least a year, so by now everyone has found a good seat to watch the fireworks.

After the show is over the real work begins. Somebody other than OEMs who are not talking needs to get their hands on these chips and do some serious benchmarking and performance comparisons.

There's a lot to check given AMD's chips are sporting two new x86 cores based on novel designs and both companies are expected to field multiple graphics cores. If there is a significant hole or price/performance difference anywhere in the product lines it just might move the needle in the decades-old competition between these two PC giants�but I don't expect it.

That's it. So tell me what you think, what I missed and what you see. Then let's sit back and see if there are any juicy surprises next week.

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