CES Goes Mobile
CEA (Consumer Electronics Association) president Gary Shapiro has his eyes on the mobile market. As the ringmaster behind the world’s largest technology event, the International CES (Consumer Electronics Show), he’s firmly of the opinion that as the event moves away from traditional consumer electronics, even bigger opportunities will lie with wireless and mobile devices.
“Things change, technology constantly evolves,” he told me in London, when he passed through for a pre-CES promotional event. “The demand for Tablet products shows where the industry is heading.”
A report from research and analysis outfit, eMarketer suggests that the number of Americans using a Tablet device once a month will reach 75m by 2013 (that’s one quarter of the US population).
Certainly at the 2012, CES mobile technology was more in evidence than at previous shows, although visitors didn’t quite find the pharmacy of Tablets they might have been expecting. It seems smaller brands are far less enthusiastic about competing directly with Apple in 2012 than they were in 2011.
However, a wave of Ultrabooks (super-slim laptops with fast boot SSD drives) filled the void, and those Tablet vendors undaunted by Apple and Amazon’s Kindle Fire, arrived at the CES playing the budget card, or tub-thumping a niche.
The venerable Thomson brand name resurfaced at the show with two Android slates, previously seen at IFA, targeting specific markets: children and senior citizens. While the products share the same basic specification, they’re distinguishable by tailored user interfaces and screen sizes. The Thomson MoFing Kids is a $199 7-inch model, while the $299 MoFing Senior has a 9-inch screen.
US budget electronics brand Coby announced no fewer than 10 Tablet devices, with prices beginning at just $109. Five will run Ice Cream Sandwich and the rest Android 2.3. The former features models with capacitive touchscreens, sized between 7- and 10.1-inches. All the Android 2.3 models, bar one, feature resistive glass.
Viewsonic bolstered its existing five Tablet range with two newcomers, the ViewPad 10e, a $299 consumer proposition running Android 2.3, and the 10pi, a dual boot Windows 7 Professional/Android 2.3 OS device, designed for business. Viewsonic VP Michael Holstein indicated that his company had its sights firmly fixed in the enterprise market and was already planning a move to Windows 8 OS, albeit with an Android app player built-in.
The connected landscape
If one theme unified the majority of products announced at CES, it was connectability. By hook, crook, wi-fi or Bluetooth, most every new gizmo appeared to connect with another, or at least the ‘net.
Hans Vestberg, president and CEO of Ericsson, predicted during his keynote that 50bn devices would be connected worldwide by 2020. Samsung consumer electronics president Boon-Keun Yoon echoed the sentiment, declaring the time had come to “break down the walls that exist between devices.” Google, widely tipped to take Microsoft’s vacated CES booth space next year, announced that there are now 350m devices able to stream clips from YouTube.
The mood on the show floor was decidedly upbeat. While CE manufacturers continue to hurt from the global slowdown, mobile phone makers remain bullish - with good reason. By the end of Q3 2011, 105.7m Americans owned smartphones, up 47 per cent from the same period in 2010. Adam Stewart, industry director for media and entertainment at Google, says these numbers, and an ongoing rise in multiplatform viewing, are making mobile devices a valuable promotional tool. “Mobile queries for returning broadcast shows in 2011 grew by 92 per cent over the previous year,” he told CES Daily.
More growth seems inevitable, as cheaper smartphones proliferate and 4G availability expands. During 2011, only Verizon Wireless and metroPCS were deploying 4G LTE networks in the States. This year, as many as nine new LTE networks are expected.
Users also seem increasingly fixated on their mobiles. Motorola says its 2011 Media Engagement Barometer research noted a five-fold increase year-on-year. 23 per cent of users now watch TV on their smartphones, and thanks to the ubiquity of social media networks, 43 per cent expressed a preference to engage with social TV on a mobile device rather than a TV.
Smartphones at CES
Samsung devoted multiple spaces around the CES to promoting its Galaxy Note, with roving artists offering caricatures drawn on the phone’s 5.3-inch display, to stress the unique versatility of the device’s S-Pen input system. Confirming that it’s bringing the 4G LTE Note to the US via AT&T, the brand also stressed its ability to view Powerpoint presentations, read e-books and peruse web pages. The company said it planned on releasing the S-Pen SDK to developers to encourage applications for the input device.
Sony used CES to launch the Xperia ion, its first 4G LTE offering. Heading exclusively to AT&T Q2, the smartphone runs Android 2.3 and has a 4.6-inch 1,280 x 720 resolution HD display. It can shoot 720p HD video and features a 12MP camera able to snap from standby in less than two seconds.
The specification is equally upscale: it sports a 1.5GHz dual core processor, 16GB of embedded memory, and HDMI connectivity. It’s also fully integrated into the Sony Entertainment network for music streaming and movie VOD, and is PlayStation game compliant.
Meanwhile, LG created considerable local hullabaloo when it announced a partnership with sports broadcaster ESPN to support the launch of its Spectrum 4G LTE smartphone. Available in the US exclusively from Verizon Wireless, the device features a 4.5-inch IPS display with a resolution of 1280 x 720. “This is true 16:9 HD on a mobile device for the first time,” the brand declared at on over-subscribed press conference.
A pre-loaded ESPN ScoreCenter app offers sports fans an exclusive high definition video feed, consisting of stats, images and videos. A personalisation mode allows users to customize their ScoreCenter by spotlighting teams and leagues.
The phone’s display is particularly bright, making for a superior viewing experience in direct sunlight. The Spectrum also features a 1.5 GHz dual-core processor, and ships with Android 2.3, but it will be upgradable to Ice Cream Sandwich.
Other niceties include an 8MP rear-facing camera with LED flash, front-facing 1.3MP camera for video chat and an integrated SmartMovie HD app to edit HD videos on the move.
Not quite the Tablet-fest of last year then, but as more and more devices become connected, it’s clear that wireless and mobile have a big part to play in the future of CES.