Six Things to Expect at the 2011 CES

The wildest week in consumer electronics is getting underway as the Consumer Electronics Show sets up in Las Vegas. Officially, the show floor is open from Thursday through Sunday, but I'll be hitting Sin City Wednesday for some closed-door previews and the event-filled CES Press Day. The annual conference attracts more than 120,000 who flock to look over nearly two million square feet of gadgetry. Here's what you can expect to see:

Tablets, tablets, and more tablets. Apple's iPad may rule the roost, but vendors are betting that there's room for competing devices, with most running Android. Some, such as the current Samsung Galaxy Tab, will use Android 2.2, while offerings from LG, Motorola, and others are likely waiting to use Honeycomb—a version of Android that's optimized for larger tablets and may require more potent processors, according to Sascha Segan.Thanks to the freely available Android platform, even TV makers such as Vizio are getting into the tablet game.Watch also for more details on BlackBerry PlayBook tablet, which will use the QNX operating system Research In Motion bought last April.

Two cores are better than one. Many tablets and even a few phones will make the move to dual-core processors at this year's CES. That bodes well for Nvidia and its Tegra 2 chip, which actually launched at the 2010 CES but never gained a following from device manufacturers.That's about to change in a big way as LG is likely to show off a dual-core smartphone that should boost app and video performance without hitting battery life too hard.Watch for other ARM chip-makers to tout their own multicore processors: Texas Instruments, Freescale, Qualcomm, and Samsung will be positioning 2011 as the year of dual-core mobile devices, much to Intel's chagrin.

Smarter cars drive into town. You can tell that the automobile will play a prominent role at CES when one of the very few keynotes is focused on cars. Audi Chairman Rupert Stadler speaks on Thursday morning and I expect to hear about connected cars, apps that are specific to automobiles, and new ways to leverage smartphones and voice control while driving.

The next dimension of TVs. As a mobile guy, I have no plans to see the seemingly endless rows of 3D TVs but with so many there, they will be difficult to avoid. I see two dampers on the 3D fire: Too many consumers only recently upgraded to HDTVs and aside from prepackaged discs, there's too little 3D content available to entice early upgrades.Don't fret.There's plenty of Web content, widgets, and consumer-generated video online, so most sets will have Internet connectivity options.

New devices for new networks. Although Verizon launched its LTE network last month, only two USB data devices came along for the ride.They work well enough; I used one to test the speedy network and to stream video from Netflix, YouTube, and Hulu.What about phones, tablets, and the like? We'll know for sure later this week.I expect several LTE handsets that use Verizon's 4G network for data, but not for voice. There ought to be a mobile hotspot device, too, and there's an off-chance for a tablet with LTE capability.

Who's not there. Each year, CES contains plenty of Apple device knockoffs, cases, and cord, but Apple itself won't be there. That may not stop Chairman Steve Jobs from pulling a repeat of his announcement of the original iPhone during the 2007 CES show, sucking the air out of CES as if it were a leaky balloon. It's possible that Apple could attempt a further upstaging by announcing the long-awaited Verizon iPhone. (We already know the Mac software store is due out this week.) Others will be missing from the show, too: Although Palm made a huge splash at the 2009 CES with its webOS and Palm Pre, Palm's new owner, Hewlett-Packard, isn't expected to introduce any new Palm products.

Healthy footwork. The last expectation is a personal one, but it gives a sense of the size and scope of CES, which is held mainly in the Las Vegas Convention Center but also fills conference rooms and suites at nearly every hotel on the Strip. I figure that from my arrival Wednesday to my Sunday departure, I'll walk at least 25 miles to cover the show at various venues. Even the worst fortune teller could predict that I'll have sore feet by next week.

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