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CES 2011 Roundup

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Last week was an important week for consumer electronics with the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) being held in Las Vegas. This year it was bigger than ever and there were a lot of new tech on display- especially tablets.

CES is always filled with prototypes that never make it to market, as we saw last year with the myriads of tablets and ebook readers that never made another sound once CES was over. I’m sure that we will see the same thing this year as the year go by, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t anything “real” at CES. Companies like RIM, Motorola, Samsung, Asus etc showed off some of their 2011 lineup and it’s clear that 2011 is going to be a much bigger tablet year than 2010 was.

There were dozens of tablets on CES and you can spend hours surfing hands-on videos to see them all, but if you just want a quick overview Ryan Kim and Kevin Tofel has a nice list of the Google+Reader” target=”_self”>top 10 tablets to keep an eye on in 2011. I won’t list any of them here as you can find the spec sheets anywhere (including that link).  The similarities between many of them are striking, so much in fact that you have to wonder how anyone can make a profit in a market with so many identical devices. This is especially true for the Android tablets, and it’s hard to try to stand out from the crowd. The Motorola Xoom definitely made an impression though, especially with the screen resolution- 1280×800 on a 10″ screen is a big jump up from 1024×600 or 1024×768 and not only brings the tablet beyond the 720p mark but also means you’ll never have to shrink a web page ever again.

On one hand it’s nice to have a lot of different manufacturers and products on the market so you can choose the one that fits you the best as well as give manufacturers a reason to innovate and be on top of it all, but that sort of system also has a few downsides. First off, it confuses the heck out of mainstream consumers and it’s not easy to grasp the difference between one tablet and another when it might come down to just being the screen resolution or an extra port or two. In the end it might come down to who has the best distribution channels as brick and mortar stores are still where most people buy their electronics. Viliv, for example, has never had any major distribution channels in the US (except for a few online stores and a few cameos at BestBuy) and so it will be difficult for them to reach the customers when they don’t have anything absolutely unique to offer. It’s also hard for software developers to keep track of all the different hardware configurations- especially the screen resolution and screen size, which is important in order to create interfaces that can easily be controlled with fingers (controls need to scale independently from content in order to provide finger sized controls regardless of resolution and screen size). It’s even worse for accessory manufacturers who have to make accessories for dozens of different devices, and the result is that there’s always way less accessories for Android devices than for iOS devices where manufacturers only have to deal with one design per year. Still, by summer I’m guessing that a lot of the tablets we saw at CES will be long dead and we’ll be left with 3-4 main Android tablets. Some of the offerings at CES had pretty critical flaws, such as Creative using resistive touchscreens in their tablets- I don’t believe those will even make it to market (then again, having inferior products haven’t stopped Creative in the past)

The big thing hardware-wise was dual core CPUs, giving tablets a major speed increase. While that is always a good thing, I’m not sure if it will really matter all that much. Looking at various demos like that of the Blackberry Playbook it seems as though they mostly use the CPU power for eye-candy, such as having several windows open with videos playing or having fancy animations in menus. You generally don’t watch several videos at once, and existing hardware can already play content that’s higher resolution than any of the tablets’ screens can display fully. Until we see some good software to take advantage of the CPU power- such as video and photo editors for those 5mpix cameras that are on every tablet or some games that really bump the graphics several notches I don’t quite see the point. The main attraction of tablets seem to be pictures, video, surfing, reading and casual games which you can easily do with single core 1Ghz CPUs. In the case of the Blackberry Playbook, they still use a 1024×600 resolution screen which limits the device much more than a slower CPU would have, and the same goes for its lack of a GPS receiver. A completely new OS is also not going to help the sale of the Playbook, even if the Blackberry name itself will draw some customers. Spec wars have existed since the beginning of computing though and while it saddens me to see history repeat itself I’m not surprised.  It wouldn’t surprise me if 2011 goes by and all that those dual core CPUs will do is animate menus.

While a lot of the hardware was the same in the Android segment, there were a couple that had a few interesting concepts. Asus had two, the Google+Reader” target=”_blank”>Slider and Transformer Android tablets that integrates keyboards with tablets in a whole new way- or rather ways. They also had a Windows 7 tablet (and so did a few other manufacturers) but frankly I think that train has left the station and crashed thoroughly into a runaway boulder. Another interesting concept was the Motorola Atrix, a smartphone that can dock into a laptop like dock that essentially turns it into a full blown Android laptop where the phone is the brains.

While Apple themselves never attend CES, every single Apple accessory manufacturers seemed to be at CES like usual. Between the rows of cases and screen protectors there were even some innovative accessories. Orbotix showed off a robotic ball that can be controlled with a smartphone, sort of like Monkey Ball in real life. Cobra showed off their radar detector for the iPhone and Withings had a couple of peculiar gadgets including an iPhone connected baby monitor and an iPhone connected blood pressure monitor. Several iPad 2 mockups also popped up at CES inside cases made for the iPad 2, but we still don’t have an official announcement of the thing.

Now that CES is over, all we can do is wait for the iPad 2 to be announced. I’m guessing dual core Apple CPU, 512MB or 1GB of RAM, 5mpix back camera and VGA front camera, and better speakers. As for the screen resolution, thats what I’m curious to find out about- will Apple pull an iPhone 4 and quadruple the resolution or will they finally go Android and do an imperfect resolution jump? I think they’ll have to do the latter, but the former would be epic…

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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24 thoughts on “CES 2011 Roundup

  • I can’t wait for an android tablet that can blow the ipad out of the water.

    Reply
  • Avatar of AZAmazed

    Agreed.
    Although the iPad really isn’t much. It is pretty user friendly, simply and smooth…
    When I think about it, it really shouldn’t take much to blow it out of the water but for some reason it just doesn’t happen. Guess it’s more complicated than that.

    Reply
  • the motorola xoom sounds like it either blows the ipad out of the water or is maybe one generation back from doing so. in any case, it’s the first tablet that i have any interest in at all.

    Reply
    • Hardware-wise it blows the iPad 1 out of the water. Software-wise there is no competition to the iPad yet because there is no software for honeycomb yet. Also, Motorola is “cheating” by showing offf a device that is months from being released just t get publicity- the iPad 2 will most likely be both announced and released by the time the Xoom is out and if we’re to believe the rumors of a 4x resolution increase and hardware to match then the Xoom will be outdated by at least a year hardware wise before it’s even out…. Don’t get me wrong, I’d love to see some serious competition for the iPad, but I don’t think Android has enough sense of direction for that to happen this year

      Reply
  • Avatar of Willrandship

    I disagree about the web page shrinking part. As screens get bigger on desktops, so will web pages, and voila: tablets will once again need to shrink their web pages :P technology rampages forward.

    Reply
  • I think the Notion Ink Adam looks interesting, that is provided the Pixel Qi display can match e-ink readers. But I understand it has a somewhat troubled production history, that kind of raises doubts…

    Reply
  • Avatar of pajjap

    indeed, i would like to see the competetion between ipad and other tablet devices… but so far, i’m looking forward to motorola xoom… i’m also curious as to the honeycomb’s functionality… the tablet scene is getting interesting this year….

    Reply
  • the blackberry tablet with androidesque after market and freelance support would be awesome

    Reply
  • The Motorola Xoom looks fantastic. I can’t wait to get some hands on time!

    Reply
  • Avatar of Mathis

    i think, that the android os is the best choice for a mobilephone, but i don’t communicate with an ipad the way i do with my android. the thing is, that the apps offered in the apple-appstore are (STILL) more professional, like autodesk sketchbook, so my choice for tablets is the ios.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matt Kirk

    Dual cores might come in handy though if someone ever figures out how to run photoshop/after effects on a tablet!

    Reply
  • I really like the look of the Xoom ,looks good in the demo vid too,was dead set on getting one ,until i saw the UK price that was mentioned,out of my range ,shame.

    Reply
  • Avatar of Stacy

    I have been watching a number of videos from CES on you tube and there looks like there is some pretty cool stuff coming out in tablets as well as 3D.

    Reply
  • Any sign of a tablet from HTC yet? I’ve seen one or two intriguing-looking images (although they may be just mock-ups of course) and my experience of using a Desire has been positive enough to make me curious…

    Reply
  • Avatar of macilaci457

    I just had the time to read it. Great to see an article on ces.

    Reply
  • There sure were some impressive looking tablets, and honeycomb is looking really nice, it will be interesting to see how it works out, esp when it comes to putting it on a phone with a 3.7 inch screen.

    What i really liked was RIMs Playbook, it looked buttery smooth and has some really nice features that other tablets like the ipad just cant match up to at the moment. But as far as ipad killers go, i think it is going to be really hard to convince the over 16 million ipad owners who are not intermeshed in the apple appstore to to move to another platform.

    What tablet makers need to do is make apples apps work on their tablet. Palm might have the balls to do something like this judging on what they did in the past with itunes connectivity with the pre.

    Reply
  • Funny how Apple dominated the show, yet has never attended the event. Hmm.

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  • Avatar of seroson

    CES was very impressive this year.

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  • I hope for a non-apple device to take hold of the market. The snobbery of apple to not even show up at the event is one of many things I dislike about them.

    Also restricting you to iTunes for syncing is a massive pain. You’d think it wouldn’t be that difficult for big company like asus to just pull their finger our and say. This is what apples doing ok we’re gonna make 1 product thats better. But what they’re working on 3 insubstantial ones?

    Craziness, someones need to topple apple from their undeserved pedestal atop of the tablet and mp3 markets.

    Reply
  • The Notion Ink Adam is something I’m super interested in, it’s a unique screen and it’s been used in the one laptop per child program for a couple of years so it should have had all the bugs ironed out of it, the resolution is not great though compared to the ipad 2. i spend a lot of time outside on field studies etc so the ipad is completely useless cos of the glossy screen. really would love something to type notes up, send emails, look at books, graphs etc directly whilst i’m outside, I’ve tried using my laptop before but the keyboard always gets filled with sand and dirt pretty quick.

    Reply
  • The Notion Ink with the Pixel Qi display seems aimed at Kindle.
    Their web site claims it works the same with either display. Interesting to see how well the B&W display would work with Andriod apps.

    Reply
  • Avatar of rob hamblet

    by far the xoom was the most impressive thing coming out of it, that and the Atruix 4g is up there

    Reply
  • Avatar of Matthew B.

    Motorola won the show for sure..

    Btw i disagree with the dual core cpus not being so important- especially with flash enabled, they are the only way to reach ios web page loading times.

    Reply
    • That’s as much an argument against flash as it is an argument for dual core CPUs ;)
      “Flash- so crappy, it can’t run on normal hardware!”
      Alternatively:
      “For years you’ve been able to play advanced 3D games on your device. Now, thanks to hardware that’s 4x as fast, you will finally be able to load the navigational menu on our website!”

      Reply

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