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CES 2011 report: All tablets all the time, without Apple

The annual consumer electronics show in Las Vegas produced a few surprises, but nothing that shook the trees.

The Motorola Atrix at the CES Show in Las Vegas.

The Motorola Atrix at the CES Show in Las Vegas. Skip Ferderber

Darth Vader at CES 2011: a publicity event that fell flat.

Darth Vader at CES 2011: a publicity event that fell flat. Skip Ferderber

HP's Pavilion DM-1 computer

HP's Pavilion DM-1 computer Skip Ferderber

LAS VEGAS, NEVADA — The annual Consumer Electronics Show —CES 2011 —may go down in history as much for what wasn't announced as for what was.  It was largely a predictable show: a tableaux of tablets, a torrent of 3D TVs, a slew of seductive smartphones.  Few if any real breakout products were in evidence except, perhaps, for a new "super phone" concept from Motorola.  There were Chinese companies by the score, but nowhere to be found was Apple.

Well, not quite.

While not an exhibitor, the Cupertino, Calif. company was more than well represented by competitors who used the comparison of "as good as an iPad" or an iPhone as a principal sales tool in marketing a broad range of competitive consumer equipment. Wide swarths of booths in both the Las Vegas Convention Center and the Las Vegas Hilton exhibition areas were filled with nothing but accessories and apps for the iPhone and iPad.

Equally noticeable was the total lack of any reference to Apple by the CEOs of Microsoft and Verizon in their respective highly publicized CES keynote addresses, especially when both of their companies are directly affected by Apple’s present and future business plans. Microsoft's CEO Steve Ballmer had nothing to say about a much-needed Microsoft tablet roadmap to counter Apple’s overwhelming dominance of the tablet market. Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg was mute when it came to the much-rumored announcement that Verizon Wireless will shortly begin selling the hugely popular iPhone after AT&T’s exclusive nearly five-year run. (The Wall Street Journal  reports that omission may be rectified at a Verizon press conference Tuesday, Jan. 11 in New York.).

As for the show itself. it appeared to have bounced back was back after last year’s Recession-slammed performance.  According to a CES press release, more than 2,700 technology companies exhibited their wares and an estimated 140,000 people including more than 30,000 attendees from outside the U.S. attended the five-day fete.

So what was hot? Please note the following is my own personal selection of interesting news.  For a broad view, and a look at hundreds more gadgets, spend some time on the CES-related CNET or Engadget sites.

Tablets: The show was awash in them: roughly 80 according to the CES. Most seemed to be based on the Google-created Android operating system, which has grown in the last year to become Apple’s strongest competitor both in phone and tablets.

The Motorola Xoom tablet was clearly one of the most highly regarded CES showstoppers, if for nothing else than it appeared to be the strongest entry yet to challenge Apple's pre-eminence in the tablet market, estimated by Bloomberg at an astounding 95 percent share. CNET and PC Magazine were among those to dub the Xoom the best product of the show.

The tablet features Google’s Android Honeycomb operating system, which is designed for tablets.  Previous Android versions were designed for phones, and lack the technological finesse for the more sophisticated tablet format.

Everything about it screams "we're a worthy iPad competitor;" specifications include a speedy dual-core processor (allegedly a Nvidia Tegra 2), better resolution (1280x800 vs. the iPad’s 1024x768), a larger display (10.1 inch vs. the iPad’s 9.7), a wider screen (16:10 vs. Apple's 16:9 aspect ratio), and it has a front and rear camera for photography and video chatting, which the iPad lacks.

Initially the Xoom will be sold only through Verizon Wireless, coming to market as a 3G-compatible device, and upgradable to 4G by June. No price was announced for the unit, but shipping is promised before the end of March. Will there be a WiFi-only version?  Motorola wasn’t saying.

All this self-congratulation may be moot when Apple brings out its iPad 2, rumored to be sometime in February. Stay tuned.

A major issue with virtually all the Android-based tablets introduced at CES is whether they will be able to upgrade to the Honeycomb operating system.  Upgradeability is the bane of anyone buying tech devices: will it become obsolete virtually from the day you buy it?  Caveat emptor . . .


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