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?