SAN JOSE, Calif. – My distant view of CES 2012 showed me Intel may do both better and worse in mobile than I thought. The next steps for Wi-Fi and set-top boxes remain unclear. And there are whoa too many application and cloud platforms.
I was modestly impressed by the first details on Intel's Medfield processor, hitting 1.6 GHz while consuming less than 800 milliwatts peak. While we still don't have the MIPS/joules figures that will tell the tale for this single-core chip, it seems to be more comfortably in the ballpark of a starting point in smartphones and tablets than the PC giant has had to date.
On the other hand, I was underwhelmed by the CES drumbeat on ultrabooks, systems that increasingly look like me-too versions of the Macbook Air. I have high hopes for Intel's 22 nm Ivy Bridge processors, but the ultrabook concept is starting to look like an aging notebook's attempts to stay youthful and stylish.
The set-top's future is less clear to me after CES. I see real examples of the disappearing set-top Entropic's CTO talked about before the show. Samsung, for example, is building a DirecTV receiver into more of its smart TVs. However, I also see Cisco building God boxes that handle six HD video streams to serve any content to any home device.
Likewise, the future for Wi-Fi is not entirely clear for me. I know the next big step is 802.11ac that gets up to a Gbit/s with 80 MHz channels at 5 GHz. Broadcom made big waves announcing it was sampling its first family of .11ac chips, some of which may have powered Buffalo, D-Link and other access points on the show floor.
None of these systems are expected to ship until late this year, and chip giants such as Qualcomm/Atheros have yet to weigh in with their plans. What's more, it's still not clear to me how OEMs will navigate the confusion around .11ac and .11ad, also demoed at CES, for driving multi Gbits/s at 60 GHz within the confines of a room. Congress willing, we also someday may see 700 MHz .11af Wi-Fi delivering much less bandwidth at much greater distances.
Maybe it's all just like a CES crowd surging forward too quickly. Wireless consultant Craig Mathias was as amazed as I was at the early hype at CES around .11ac.
"This is the earliest in the standards process I've ever seen chips appear," Mathias said. "There isn't even an approved draft of .11ac at this point," he said, echoing Atheros and others that say .11ac is the future of Wi-Fi with .11ad an interesting niche and .11af a distant maybe.
The one thing clear form CES 2012 is there are way too many application platforms. In this area, NetGear and AT&T tied to win my most hated of CES 2012 award.
NetGear's Smart Network Cloud Application Platform--did they miss any buzzwords?-- for its home media servers is a non-starter in my book. I don't want to bother with apps on my media server, I just want one utility that loads with the system and lets me manage it in an easy to use way. If NetGear or some third party gets a better idea after I buy the box, offer me a free upgrade but don't ask me to browse and try out alternatives on a NetGear app store.
We can thank AT&T for being the first in trying to fragment HTML5 in a big way. I assume the upshot of its HTML5 app store is a specific implementation tuned for the AT&T network of the Web software which is supposed to unify mobile apps. I can't wait for the HTML5 app stores from Verizon, Vodaphone and Orange—or the first time when I am roaming and the app from one provider doesn't work on another's net.
Speaking of over-ambitious platforms, I am not sure what to think of the tech demo of Seagate Mobile Wireless Storage, a Seagate hard drive with embedded LTE to link to a Verizon cloud service.
It makes sense in a funny way. If the mega gigabyte drive doesn't have enough storage just automatically link to the Verizon cloud for more. Will payment of associated data services for that be automated, too?
For me the Seagate LTE drive registered the same way as the motorized roller skates shown at CES. Somehow I felt the application of the technology was missing the point of the application.
Anyway, isn't it the job of the system in which the drive appears to offer a cloud storage service? If I extrapolate from Seagate's ambitions, someday we may have a home media server that comes with cloud services and applications stores offered by the system supplier, the drive supplier, the flash supplier and the microprocessor maker—and maybe Best Buy, too.
Maybe I should switch to Apple.
I viewed CES 2012 from the comfort of my Silicon Valley home/office this year. If you haven't been clicking on it already, check out our media-rich event landing page and our latest experiment in news aggregation timed for CES.
As is the case in some years, I felt there was no overarching new theme from CES. This was not the year of HD or stereo 3-D—not even the year when the TV and mobile sectors converged, at least not with any clarity about the way forward.
I suspect the biggest consumer news of the year may come later, if and when Apple announces an iTV. Maybe next January instead of going to Vegas we should all just Occupy Cupertino. Given the news during CES of a strike at Foxconn's Wuhan, China, factory, that may be appropriate for several reasons.
Where did you get your CES news? What did you most like and hate from the show?
Thank you for giving an overview of CES for a reader like me sitting here in India.
The 3DTV seems to be a non starter till today. A better quality 2D is much more pleasing for longer-time viewing than 3D viewing with those glasses. Some out of box thinking is required to bring in some new technology for 3D viewing.
I agreed current 3DTV vision is totally unacceptable by human eyes and brain. Put in so much effort and money already, makers had no choice to show off to see if any buyer. This is a failed product I put it this way.
Thanks for this summary of your hits and misses, I agree that context switching is important but only p p a point. Apple deliberately slow things down and animate widget movements because people can get a sense of what 'just happened'.
Too quick and you can get an experience like 'Huh?' What'd I do?'
Unexpected, in a do-we-really-need-this sort of way: A lot of gesturing technology. Kind of cool, but also kind of a gimmick. Gesturing to control a tablet from a foot or two away -- a tablet that already has a touch screen? Really? The use case example cited was suppose you are in the kitchen baking and your hands are all messy and you need to flip the page on the recipe that's displayed on your tablet. Yeah, when I decide to quit IC design and become the next Betty Crocker I'll keep that in mind :)
Also in this category, some of the smart appliance stuff was a little absurd, like the washer & dryer with networking and USB ports on the control panel. Networking, ok, so I can monitor them remotely. But this would be a lot more interesting if it also came with a robot that could just do the laundry for me in my absence. Maybe at CES 2025...
Unexpected, in a good way: The automotive stuff was a delight -- and not just the electronics, but the cars themselves. The heads-up display that highlighted objects in the field of view such as pedestrians crossing and bicyclists turning was fantastic. The Ford Evos, an EV concept car with 4 gull wing doors, was enough to make any sports car enthusiast drool.
Another one in this category was the waterproof smartphones and tablets. Just a mechanical case design innovation really, and with the same form factors as any other tablet or smartphone.
Last but not least, Windows Phone 7.5 running on a particular smartphone from a vendor usually known for its Android phones. I expected to be underwhelmed, but the speed of task switching and app launching was by far the fastest of any phone I have ever played with. I was so impressed, I had to take a photo of it with my iPhone 4S.
As usual, there were some things that I fully expected, but also a few surprises. Vendor names omitted to protect the innocent and the guilty. You all know who you are.
In the category of the expected: A lot less emphasis on 3DTV than last year, thankfully. But I did manage to put on the glasses at a couple of booths, just to remind myself of why I will never buy a 3DTV. After a few movie trailers, I was already slightly uncomfortable. If I had to watch 3D for a whole evening, I would need Dramamine...or maybe an excessive number of alcoholic beverages.
Also expected: Smartphones and tablets in unbelievable numbers -- several trash dumpster loads of them -- and some from unexpected vendors. After a few hours of walking the show floor, they all look the same and one wonders how anyone hopes to differentiate themselves. One vendor even had tablets in an array of sizes from the absurdly small to the absurdly large. I guess when you have no idea what size people will buy, you offer all of them and then mass produce the one or two sizes that get some traction.