Once again, the Consumer Electronics Show has visited Las Vegas and given the tech world a glimpse of the gadgets that will be working their way onto the scene this year.
It’s easy to get excited, but a lot of stuff shown isn’t actually coming out any time soon. Just like last year, some exhibitors showed off prototypes of things like glasses-free 3-D televisions, flexible phone screens and dual-touchscreen laptops. What technology writers around the web really wanted to see was stuff we could buy really, really soon.
There was of course a glut of tablets. Following the Year of the iPad, how could there be anything else? Apple’s leading competitor is turning out to be not another hardware manufacturer but the Android operating system. Windows on a tablet hasn’t made a great splash, but Android, originally designed for phones, shows up on dozens of different devices.
The Motorola Xoom got the most attention, because it’s the first to run Android 3.0. Sure, it also has a big 10.1-inch screen and a dual-core processor, but the shiny new OS, codenamed “Honeycomb,” was the real excitement.
Tablets and e-readers helped another product find its niche: the Ion Book Saver. It looks a bit like a hanging planter, but instead of dirt you put books in the bottom, and up top is a pair of cameras, not a hook. Take two pictures, turn the page, take two more pictures, turn the page … and eventually you’ve made your own e-book.
Sound tedious? Maybe. Ion claims it photographs a two-page spread in one second, which sounds perfectly reasonable, since it’s the page turning that takes all the time. You’re not really going to whip through a 120-page book in a single minute, and mass market paperbacks would be a pain to hold down. Still, for digitizing large-format, expensive books, it could be a handy tool. Everything saves directly to a SecureDigital card or to your computer.
A number of journalists got all excited about the Motorola Atrix 4G. This Android phone is impressive, if not exactly revolutionary, in its own right: a dual-core 1GHz processor, 1GB of RAM and 16GB of storage space give it practically netbook specs. Its real selling point, though, is its ability to dock with accessories and become a more universal computing device. The flagship accessory is the Laptop Dock, which is pretty much what it sounds like: an 11.6-inch screen, keyboard, touchpad, battery and speakers in a slim laptop configuration with a slot for the phone. The dock relies on the phone for all its computing power, so it can be lighter and sleeker than a comparable netbook. Another dock hooks up to your television to play 720p HD video straight from the phone.
Is any of this a real innovation? Meh. It’s nice to have one device, your phone, so you’re not replicating documents and apps to a netbook. On the other hand, replicating means you have a backup, which is never a bad thing. If the Laptop Dock had cables for hooking up to any PC, I’d be totally sold.
Hmm. Given the Xoom hype as well, I’m almost inclined to think that what Motorola has really perfected this year is its marketing. But that would be cynical, right?
Indeed, the biggest news from CES this year may be the attendance numbers: 140,000 people, the most since 2007. Housing and other areas of the economy may still be taking a recessionary beating, but interest in tech is as high as ever.