Some years, the theme of the annual Consumer Electronics Show is new -- new brands, new technologies, new formats, new products -- and some years, the theme is "more." Expect 2012 to be one of the "more" years.
Without a radical new hook to entice consumers and with several CE categories in the maturation phase, industry reps who descend on the Las Vegas Convention Center will focus, in part, on attracting sales by emphasizing connectivity among devices (automobiles are devices too, in this realm), and defining value in an economically challenged retail environment.
"There will be new implementations of existing technologies and expansion of applications," said Marc Finer, technical director for the Digital Entertainment Group, a consortium of information technology and entertainment providers. "For example, look at some of the interactive elements in gaming, voice and face recognition, and they'll migrate to other products in other categories."
All that said, there will be surprises at the show, which opens Jan. 10. (An early one was Microsoft announcing it won't return in 2013. "Our product news milestones generally don't align with the show's January timing," communications VP Frank Shaw wrote in a company blog. "Are we doing something because it's the right thing to do, or because it's the way we've always done it?")
Here's a deeper dive into some categories:
Cameras are primed for advancement as the photo and video capabilities of smartphones improve. Expect more offerings like Sony's $1,400 NEX-7, a compact form factor with an astounding 24-megapixel sensor and a stunning viewfinder that incorporates organic light-emitting diode (OLED) technology. The problem with the NEX -- one it shares with some other in-demand goods -- is a shortage of supply because of the recent floods in Thailand.
Even though Apple sits out the show, it will be there virtually -- and the "iConomy" at this year's CES will be focused, in part, on tablets. Apple leads the charge, followed, in random order, by HP, Sony, Samsung and others.
At some point in 2012, a third-generation iPad will emerge with a higher-resolution screen (to compete with Sony's TabletS), an advanced chip and probably a version of the personal assistant Siri, Apple's voice-recognition system. Amazon's Kindle Fire stole some holiday sales from Apple, but expect a more feature-laden version soon. And look for a tablet-friendly version of Microsoft's Windows -- this is version eight -- sometime in mid-year.
The flat-panel TV, once the cash cow for the industry, is now the bane of it. Supply is massive, margins razor thin, prices dropping weekly and new technologies designed to capture early adaptors -- 3-D, internet TV -- have about as much grip in the market as a New York Jets receiver.
The Blu-ray video format will figure prominently into the home-entertainment space -- some players are less than $80 now. Look to companies such as Unity, a startup aiming to bundle home-entertainment accoutrements, to offer sub-$1,000 solutions like a package that incorporates home-theater audio electronics, speakers and a 3-D Blu-ray player into a floor-standing TV platform.
It might be easy to confuse CES with an auto show. This January, Daimler Chairman Dieter Zetsche takes the keynote reins, and he's expected to outline Mercedes' strategy for further integrating telematics and the latest smartphone apps into real-time driving.
Here's another curiosity: the press dates of CES and the North American International Auto Show in Detroit are the same. In fact, General Motors' Cadillac division is holding a press conference to show off its new CUE in-car system in Las Vegas rather than Detroit.