6 Things to Expect at the 2011 Consumer Electronics Show

The wildest week in consumer electronics gets underway this week with the Consumer Electronics Show, or CES, taking place in Las Vegas. Officially, the show floor is open this Thursday through Sunday, but I’ll be hitting Sin City tomorrow for some closed-door previews and the event-filled CES Press Day on Wednesday. The annual conference attracts more than 120,000 in the industry, who flock to see nearly 2 million square feet of gadgetry. Here’s what you can expect to see throughout the course of this week:

  1. Tablets, tablets and more tablets. Apple’s iPad may rule the roost, but vendors are betting there’s room for competing devices, with most of them running Android (s goog). 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, which may require more potent processors, according to Sascha Segan. Thanks to the freely available Android platform, even television makers such as Vizio are getting in the tablet game. Watch for more details on BlackBerry’s PlayBook (s rimm) tablet too, which will use the QNX operating system Research In Motion bought last April.
  2. 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 will 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 (s armh) chip-makers to tout their own multi-core processors: Texas Instruments (s txn), Freescale (s fsl), Qualcomm (s qcom) and Samsung will be positioning 2011 as the year of dual-core mobile devices, much to Intel’s (s intc) chagrin.
  3. Smarter cars drive into town. You know the automobile will play a prominent role at CES when one of the very few keynotes is focused on cars. Audi AG Chairman of the Board 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.
  4. The next dimension of televisions. As a mobile guy, I have no plans to see the seemingly endless rows of 3-D televisions, but with so many there, it will be difficult to avoid them. Unfortunately, I think there are two dampers on the 3-D fire: too many consumers have only recently upgraded to HDTVs, and aside from pre-packaged discs there’s too little 3-D content available to entice early upgrades. But don’t fret; there’s plenty of web content, widgets and consumer generated video online, so most sets will have Internet connectivity options.
  5. New devices for new networks. Although Verizon (s vz) 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 stream video from Netflix (s nflix), YouTube and Hulu. But what about phones, tablets and the like? We’ll know for sure later this week and 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 the off-chance of a tablet with LTE capability.
  6. Not everyone will be there. Each year at CES, there are plenty of Apple (s aapl) device knock-offs, cases and cord, but Apple itself won’t be there. However, that may not stop Steve Jobs from pulling a repeat of the 2007 CES show That’s when the original iPhone was announced, and it sucked the air out of CES like a leaky balloon. It’s possible Apple could attempt another upstaging by announcing the long-awaited Verizon iPhone, and we already know the Mac software store is due out this week. Others besides Apple will also be missing from the show: Although Palm made a huge splash at the 2009 CES with its webOS and Palm Pre, the new owner of Palm, Hewlett-Packard (s hpq), isn’t expected to debut any new Palm products.

The last expectation is a personal one, but it gives an idea as to the size and scope of CES, which is held mainly in the Las Vegas Convention Center, but also at various conference rooms and suites at nearly every hotel on the Vegas Strip. I figure that between my CES arrival tomorrow and my Sunday departure, I’ll walk at least 25 miles to cover the show at various venues. Even the worst fortune-teller could safely predict sore feet by the end of this week!

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