I hate going to large trade shows like CES. You get tired-really bone dead tired walking for what seems like 100 miles going from one meeting to another. Did I forget to mention that I actually also love shows like CES because when I get home from major shows like this, I realize that they were so valuable that I'm happy that I put up with it?
The 2012 Computer Electronics Show was one of the best (and most tiring) shows I've attended in many years. CES officials said that total registration was the highest ever at 153,000 people. There were thousands of booths and meeting rooms spread over the entire Las Vegas Convention Center and the Venetian. You'd never know the country was trying to recover from a recession. Mobile and wireless (and all consumer electronics) is bustling.
However, with so much information crammed in, how does one know what the most important develops from CES 2012 were? There's no easy way to answer, but here's a summary of some of the things at CES that impressed me.
For one, the show demonstrated that mobile and wireless innovation is still alive and well.
Samsung has a hit product with their new Galaxy Note. It's a "crossover" device that is part smartphone and part tablet, although I think most people will call it a "small tablet." It includes a 5.3-inch WXGA display, voice and LTE data communications and has easy handwriting input via its S-pen. Samsung has added handwriting and image-creation software to make it very easy to use right out of the box. S-pen could be something that Samsung eventually will migrate and incorporate into their larger 7.3-inch and larger tablet systems. Many will recall that pens were the rage when the PalmPilot came out and then completely went away. We're seeing a resurgence of pen-enabled devices to help users make full and better use of their mobile devices.
Intel and Motorola announced a strategic alliance whereby Motorola will incorporate Intel's latest low power x86 Atom processor in a number of future Motorola products. This is the first successful major mobile device manufacturer to support a CPU other than those based on ARM. It will be challenging for software developers to migrate their applications to a new platform but Intel promises to help. The bigger question is how "Intel Inside Mobile" will affect overall user experience.
Research In Motion demonstrated its next-generation BlackBerry PlayBook tablet with 7.3-inch display. What's important is that the next generation of the operating system software finally (finally!) includes native email. Very few enterprises were going to roll out the PlayBook if it couldn't do email like the BlackBerry smartphone. Native email will also enable the QNX operating system to be more easily migrated to BlackBerry 10, the future version of the smartphone OS that will be rolled out at the end of 2012. RIM is having a number of challenges, but the improvements to the PlayBook will reduce anxiety with customers.
Last year, CES must have had 100 vendors showing off Android tablets. What struck me this year as the maturing of the Android tablet platform and the frank realization by most vendors that Android is "table stakes" and they have to offer more than just an OS and the Android Market apps store in order to be successful. Amazon clearly is finding success positioning its tablet as a service to provide access to interesting content. We'll see more attention to the "content layer" on top of Android during 2012.
A good example was my meeting with the folks at Barnes & Noble. The bookseller's Nook Tablet has a few extra features over the Amazon Kindle Fire (and a slightly higher price point at $249). But, Barnes & Noble understands that its platform is about access to great content, not just a good tablet running Android.
One of the most interesting demonstrations I saw was by Wilocity. Wilocity's customers haven't announced their products using Wilocity chips but just about everyone is going to have their technology embedded by the end of 2012 first in laptops and then in smartphones. It was amazing to watch a DVD movie transfer at lightning speed or the streaming of four movies back and forth between computers and monitors at the same time. Maybe-just maybe-through the Wigig Alliance, companies such as Wilocity will eliminate the complexity of all those cables to set up home theaters and enable rich media to be available throughout the home or office. This company has the backing of major venture capital firms and a strategic investment by Qualcomm. Wilocity's chip will include not only the new gigabit 60GHz wireless chip but also provide backward compatibility with 802.11 a, b, g and n.
Nokia seemed poised for a comeback. For a while, everyone used to have one of those candy bar Nokia cell phones until Motorola brought out the Razr in 2004 and had sold 50 million units by 2006. It was a flip phone and very thin. Nokia kept proceeding as they had in the past because they were the market leader. Nokia's market share dropped. Then, Apple brought out the iPhone in 2007, and I remember folks at Nokia said, "Why should we worry about Apple? We sell more phones in a day than they sell in a year." Nokia's U.S. market share plummeted. Nokia kept saying the company would make a comeback.
Then, one year ago, Nokia announced its strategic partnership with Microsoft and said it would wind down its reliance on Symbian and focus future smartphone efforts around Windows Phone. Was this a glimmer of hope or the last dash before shutting the doors? At CES 2012, Nokia announced three phones around the Lumia brand-the 710, 800 and the eye catching 900-all running Windows Phone 7. At $49.95, the Lumia 710 is being sold through T-Mobile and targeted at the first-time smartphone buyer who's moving up from a feature phone. The Lumia 900 is a full-featured LTE phone with both front and rear-facing camera and custom services such as ESPN SportsCenter feed. It's targeted at technology-aware individuals who want one of the most advanced smartphones on the market.
Motorola executives explained that they are developing specific smartphone and tablet products for each wireless operator. Motorola developed smartphone products for Verizon Wireless and its Droid line. Then, the company developed different devices for AT&T. Motorola is also staying away from the 7.3-inch tablet form factor as the company doesn't want to compete at the "low end" of the market against Amazon. I suspect product strategy to change quite a bit after the Google acquisition is complete.
I met with two major mobile ARM-based CPU vendors: Qualcomm and Nvidia both announced quad-core CPUs for smartphones and tablets. Qualcomm emphasized its product breadth with different models serving different segments of the market while Nvidia emphasized its fifth "very low power" core to be used when demands on the system were very low.
Getting to see all these great innovations is why I love working in the mobile and wireless. It's clear from attending the 2012 CES that the best is yet to come in mobile and wireless.