The Consumer Electronics Show is coming up in a few short weeks (Jan 8-11). It can be a very depressing show because it effectively showcases just how much of the stuff you got over the holidays will soon be obsolete. Apple isn't at CES but won't make its customers sleep well either: The company is expected to announce a bunch of new products during MacWorld (Jan 8-12).
Fortunately, you don't have to go to either show and can watch the blow by blow from the comfort of your own home. The Internet takes away the pressure to run around like crazy while trying to figure out what is, or is not, important.
One of the treats of being an analyst and a CES judge is that you get early invitations from a variety of vendors that will give you a heads-up on what they will be promoting on the showfloor. Based on these details, you can make some determination what could be hot. Both shows, by the way, will have a huge consumer electronics focus this year. This is normal for CES but for Apple, this is the coming out party for their iTV, iPhone, and - you guessed it - yet another wave of iPod accessories. Since the Vista release draws close, Apple is expected to make a big Leopard announcement to counter what Microsoft will be talking about at CES.
But there is going to be lots of other buzz as well.
Displays grow, get LEDs and go wireless
Current LCD displays use a fluorescent type of backlighting, which lasts between five and seven years and tends to wash out in very bright light. This is true of both monitors and LCD TVs. As Plasma makes its swan song in the market, expect to see a number of LED lighted LCD TV's and monitors showcased by the major brands for release in the second half of the year. Apple likes to go early with technologies like this, but this may be too early even for Apple. But they could have a surprise in this category, so keep your eagle eyes open.
Display sizes are going up across the board with 46" LCD TVs going mainstream. There is a strong possibility we will see sharp price drops for TV's above 50". 24" monitors were the hot size this year; however, massive price drops year-over-year show that the next size up is 30".
Dell currently has the most aggressively priced product in this category, while HP seems to lead with features. Apple trails and it is about time for Apple to give a more competitive response.
In TVs, look for a big jump in wireless connectivity solutions. Unfortunately, you'll still have to plug them in but there will be a huge jump in the number of technology vendors showcasing capabilities that may make many of the cables connecting TVs to set top boxes obsolete resulting in much easier installations going forward.
There is a possibility that we may see some LED lighted TV projectors but, for now, that is just a rumor.
TV sound is going to get a huge boost. Advanced built in speakers will provide much stronger low end capability without separate sub-woofers and the technology that can make front speakers sound like they are behind you is expected to get more visibility at the show.
Media Centers to Media Servers
One of the big problems with PC-based Media Centers is they are relatively hard to set up and use. AMD has already started to showcase a Media Center design which is vastly easier to set up, because it has a built-in amplifier. In addition, AMD and other vendors have been hinting at building products using embedded versions of Linux and Microsoft technology to address the ease-of-use issues. Cisco is expected to be, either publically or quietly, showcase a product due late next year, which is based on an enhanced version of its Scientific Atlanta set top box technology. Code named "Cable Bypass Box," it is expected to light a fire under Internet-sourced high definition content.
CES will be awash with Vista Media Center PCs. At least one will have a built-in amplifier and from what I have seen, it is as stunning as expensive. Some will use touch screen input and several of the designs look more advanced than, for example, Apple's iMac media solution.
Apple will be showcasing its iTV and the question will be how it connects to other devices. Speculation is that there will be a special version of the Mac Mini configured to collect and share content. In addition, there is something apparently going on between Apple and Intel's Viiv initiative and that could result in a unique offering from both companies. Finally, a new class of product will emerge at CES, called a Media Server (we have already started to see products like this from companies like Maxtor). These products will collect and serve up media not only to the home but those that are traveling away from home as well. Eventually embracing functions from Home Automation to security and backup, this has a lot of vendors very excited right now.
Watch for content deals that will define this space. The best hardware is worthless if it doesn't have content to play on it and the studios have not been on the same page with this stuff at all. Google and YouTube are expected to be big players in the future of these devices. Automotive Stereo
Look for aftermarket products that now combine both sound and video. In addition, some of the more expensive devices will connect to wireless networks so they can update their repositories and we may be seeing the beginning of the end for CDs (actually that probably started when the first iPod shipped).
Enhancements with both in car and handheld GPS products are expected to be seen from a variety of vendors. Integrated systems will more effectively update themselves for changing traffic conditions and be even more capable of calling for help when the driver is in trouble. In car displays will be getting both larger and cheaper and, here too, expect to see some with LED backlighting and an increased use of touch screens.
MP3 Players and Phones
Both Sandisk and Samsung will be increasing the pressure on Apple dramatically with much richer lines and better integration with music and video systems. Even bigger will be a new generation of media rich phones. This topic will probably put the most pressure on CES, as Apple is expected to announce a "segment breaking" device to market. With Apple suddenly acting much closer to Microsoft than they have done historically, there is some speculation as to what the phone will actually be running as an operating system. All I know is that - whatever they are planning - the result is supposed to be "surprising".
Look for a variety of products with vastly better sound, better and faster displays, longer battery life, and aggressive industrial designs. Also look for accessories that better integrate these things with other parts of your digital life from connections so they can back up cameras to advanced wireless technology allowing them to function without ever needing to be connected to a TV. The iPod with the large display isn't expected until the second half of the year, but Apple likes upsets so the player may show up early.
CES is a big part of the Microsoft Windows Vista coming out party. Expect some laptops and desktops purposely designed for Vista. Some of these go well beyond what even Apple, Dell XPS, or Alienware have done and I really don't think folks are aware of how wild some of the OEMs are planning to become. You talk about lust boxes, I've seen some amazing prototypes and while the initial products will be relatively expensive, often showcasing technology that will take awhile to come down in price, the industrial designs are stunning and Apple will likely face design pressure they haven't seen before.
However, due largely to their new closeness with Intel, there is every indication they know what is coming and have put together their own stunning response. MacWorld is where we will see just how far Apple is willing to go to hold on to their design lead. Look for wider screens, vastly better graphics, and improvements in battery life. Also look for some interesting ways to customize laptop and desktop PCs and some incredibly wild new active cooling systems for the gamer set.
Speaking of gamers, look for Microsoft to start showcasing Vista's gaming capability along with the new integration into the Xbox live gaming framework so that folks on PCs and Xbox 360s can play against each other. The game developers have been looking forward to this and controllers that work with both the Xbox 360 and PCs will probably be in abundance. This is just the beginning and as we get closer to the show I'll try to provide updates in areas that I've either not covered or that have become more clear based on what I've actually been shown.
Until then, keep your eyes on us and your hand on your wallet, because next year is already looking much more expensive, in terms of technology products, than any previous year I can recall.
Rob Enderle is principal analyst for the Enderle Group. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Read our complete CES 2006 coverage