This year's Consumer Electronics Show suggests that ultrabooks, Windows 8 and Windows Phone will dominate the thinking of many companies in 2012.
LAS VEGAS-Long before
Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer stepped onstage
to give the opening keynote of the
2012 Consumer Electronics Show (CES), chatter among analysts and pundits
focused on a handful of key show themes: ultrabooks, Windows 8 and Nokia's
attempt to emerge as a significant player in the U.S. smartphone market.
likely the final one by any Microsoft CEO for the foreseeable future, as the
company intends to make CES 2012 its last-contained no surprises and did
nothing to counter those emerging themes. He praised the "Metro" design
aesthetic, which is helping unite the company's various products into a unified
ecosystem, as a "star attraction" that "lights everything up." He touted
Windows Phone and the upcoming Windows 8, and a brief video flashed the
ultrabooks created by Microsoft's hardware partners.
Ultrabooks are lightweight, slim laptops backed by powerful
hardware. Some 60 different types will reportedly hit the market in 2012. For
Intel, a chief backer of the form factor, ultrabooks represent a chance to own
a more substantial piece of the mobility market; for manufacturers, it
represents a chance to capitalize on the same trend that made Apple's MacBook
Air a hit. However, some analysts feel ultrabook manufacturers have a hard
battle ahead if they want their latest devices to seize the imaginations of PC
"The prices, mostly in the $1,000 price range, are
much more reasonable than they used to be for comparable PCs, but they're still
not affordable for every PC buyer," Sarah Rotman Epps, an analyst with
Forrester Research, wrote in a Jan. 6 posting on her corporate blog. In a September survey her firm conducted
of 5,130 online consumers, about 22 percent signaled interest in ultrabooks at
the $1,000 price point.
The ultrabooks' lightweight
bodies alone won't sway consumers, analyst Jack Gold told eWEEK:
ultrabooks are only thin, light Mac Air knockoffs, they won't be very
During his keynote, Ballmer
also touted a new line of Windows Phones from various manufacturers. Along with
hardware partners such as HTC and Nokia, Microsoft is using CES as a platform
to relaunch Windows Phone, which has attracted critical praise but relatively few sales.
Perhaps no company has more
riding on Windows Phone's success than Nokia, which abandoned its homegrown
operating systems in favor of Microsoft's. As part of its push at CES, Nokia announced a new high-end smartphone running the Windows Phone OS:
the Lumia 900.
But Microsoft has more to
worry about than Windows Phone-or whether audiences will gravitate toward
ultrabooks. Ballmer used his speech to promote Windows 8, the company's
upcoming operating system designed to work on both traditional PCs and tablets.
Windows 8 carries risks for
Microsoft. It arrives a mere three years after Windows 7, which has sold
more than 500 million copies. That might
make a new version a hard sell to customers that recently upgraded.
Also, Windows 8 on tablets will enter a segment dominated by
Apple's iPad and crowded with a variety of Google Android tablets.
This CES kicks off what
surely will be the driving stories for 2012: the rise of ultrabooks, Nokia's attempted comeback, and Microsoft and
partners gearing up for Windows 8.