An often irreverent look at some of this week's 2010 CES news ...
I've been in Las Vegas for the past few days, covering the mammoth 2010 Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Not to sound like a character from a bad movie, but I'm getting too old for this. I've had to walk several miles a day just to get around this show and fight my way through a crowd of people that's five times the size of the population of my home town. Coupled with Microsoft's lackluster news from the show, it's been sort of a wasted effort.
Well, except for two things. ThinkPad maker Lenovo has surprised me with a truly compelling new lineup of portable machines that includes a unique and innovative hybrid mini-notebook that runs Windows 7 but features a pop-off screen with its own OS and battery; that part of the machine, when decoupled from the base, runs a version of Linux with web-based widgets that let you access cloud-computing services from a touch-enabled UI. It's really sweet. So much for Lenovo's stodgy image.
Second, I've been able to hang out a bit with Leo Laporte's podcasting crew and will do a bit more of that today (Friday), when Leo and I will record a special CES episode of the Windows Weekly podcast. It's at a different time (10am PT), and if you're at the show, we're over in the South Hall by the entrance, in the Broadcast Booth. I'll be there for a bit before and after the show, as well. The episode should be up sometime over the weekend, but this is one you'll want to catch on video if possible.
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Notebooks, Netbooks, and Smartbooks, Oh My!
CES is the launching point for a new category of device called the smartbook, which is essentially a netbook-sized device (10" screen) with non-x86 innards (i.e., it can't run Linux) and a smartphone-like OS such as Android. The aforementioned Lenovo hybrid notebook combines a traditional Windows 7-based netbook with a detachable smartbook-type screen/tablet, so it's sort of a smartbook, or arguably the king of smartbooks. (Lenovo also makes a standalone smartbook that doesn't include the Windows 7 bits or a breakaway screen.) So, the big question is whether these machines make any sense. With a netbook, at least, you get the option of running traditional Windows applications, and while no one could claim that the average netbook is a speed demon, those apps are still a big selling point. With a smartbook, you're kind of on your own. Companies have unique strategies in this arena, but my guess is that something based on a successful smartphone platform, like Android, will make more sense than a completely new platform. But I'm curious to see how well these devices sell and whether most people will get them with an attached wireless data plan. The future, as they say, is hazy.
Suddenly, Tablet Form Factors Are Hot—or Are They?
Thanks to the never-ending build-up to Apple's inevitable tablet computer, tablets are suddenly hot, and we all have to pretend that the past eight years never happened. That's because we've had true Tablet PCs since 2002 and—let's be honest—they've never been particularly compelling to any mass audience. But it's a testament to Apple's popularity with the tech press that suddenly everyone has a tablet to sell. Some are lame retreads of what came before—the HP tablet we saw in Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer's CES keynote address—and some are actually quite innovative (Lenovo) and clearly pre-date any Apple silliness. And in case you're wondering why the lame tablet made an appearance in a Microsoft keynote while the cool one didn't, remember that the Lenovo device includes a Linux-based component. It wouldn't do to have Microsoft promote that, now would it?
eBooks Are Everywhere, but Only the Kindle Matters
Another sudden and amusing trend that's all over CES is the eBook reader—that little wanabe that no one was interested in when Amazon first started selling its Kindle device two years ago. (A previous Sony entry was even less interesting to the public.) Well, now that the Kindle is a bestseller, everyone is getting in on the game, including Microsoft, whose Blio reader is a funny attempt to pretend the Microsoft Reader never happened. I spent a lot of time looking at the new eBook readers at CES, including the Barnes & Noble Nook, and I'm not impressed. The Kindle is still the best device, and it still has the best wireless access to the best collection of books. So let's stop pretending otherwise.
Other Big Trends at CES
I am astonished by the number of 3D interfaces I'm seeing for home TVs. Seriously, does anyone really think we're going to plop down on the couch and dig up 3D glasses for the whole family every night? My kids lose the remote every day, so this is a nonstarter. Also big: HD camcorders that fit in your palm. Razor-thin HDTV displays. Netbooks are everywhere. Green technology, which feels like a flash in the pan. (Only because everything should simply be built "green"; it should just be the way it is.) 3G connection routers and amplifiers.
Palm Bringing Pre, Pixi to Verizon ... But Is It Too Late?
Palm announced this week that it will bring enhanced versions of its WebOS smartphones to Verizon Wireless, giving those lucky enough to be on the nation's best 3G network a chance to sample Palm's wares. But Verizon customers aren't getting standard versions of the Pre and Pixi; they're getting the Pre Plus and Pixi Plus, which both come with some important enhancements over their predecessors, including more memory. (The Pixi Plus also gains Wi-Fi, the lack of which was a silly oversight in the Pixi.) Palm, of course, is in trouble. The WebOS stuff is good but coming slow to market, and the original Pre was performance-challenged. Hopefully, Palm's moves this year will pay off. Palm is one of those companies I kind of root for, even though I can't quite explain why. But when it comes to phones, the iPhone, Android, and even Windows Mobile are still more interesting to me.
No Windows Mobile 7, but We'll Have News in February ... OK, March at the Latest
Speaking of Windows Mobile, Microsoft had a small Windows Mobile presence at CES, and I got to spend some hands-on time with the capacitive-screen-based HTC HD2 the other night. I was surprisingly impressed. But Microsoft wasn't talking Windows Mobile 7 at CES, which is too bad. So I started asking around about when the Windows Mobile 7 information deluge would begin. I think we can expect a trickle of information at the Mobile World Congress in February (where Steve Ballmer will again speak). But the big deal is the MIX conference in March, which will also be held in Las Vegas. Microsoft had previously confirmed MIX as a launching point for Windows Mobile 7, and this was confirmed at CES. I'm already booked for MIX and can't wait to see this already mythical system. It's got a lot to live up to.
More CES Coverage
If you're looking for more news from CES, I've been covering the show from the SuperSite for Windows, where you'll find news articles, blog posts, and photo galleries from the event.