Each year thousands of manufacturers and enthusiasts flock to the Consumer Electronics Show, being held in Las Vegas from Jan. 6-9 this year.
The annual convention has a different flavour each year, with certain innovations, products or trends headlining and carrying over through the year that follows.
In 2010, the show was saturated with 3D televisions. For CES 2011, we identify five technologies that will likely be most prominent in the months to come.
The iPad has dominated tablet headlines for the last year and though Apple popularized the platform, it will be propelled by its competition. Fortunately for consumers, this year at CES there will be no shortage of entries into the market.
We have already been introduced to a number of new faces, including products from technology giants Acer and Toshiba. Both the Toshiba tablet and Acer's Iconia Tab are built on state-of-the-art hardware, which boasts full 1080p HD video output in a 10-inch form.
One standout in the crowded field is ASUS, which has targeted a large consumer base that finds typing on touch screens uncomfortable.
The ASUS Eee Pad Slider reveals a full QWERTY keyboard beneath the familiar 10-inch display, and the ASUS Transformer is identical to a small notebook or netbook, but gives users the option to physically disconnect the screen from the keyboard — creating a handheld tablet.
There will be one constant through the field of tablets and that is Google's Android operating system. Android has demonstrated unrivaled growth on smartphones in the last 12 months and with version 3.0 — codenamed Honeycomb — Google will expand further into the mobile market.
Each of the examples listed above is powered by Honeycomb, as are the majority of tablets that will be announced at CES 2011.
The PC/TV Blur
When considering the difference between watching television and using a home computer, leaning backward or forward can differentiate the experiences.
This year's innovation could have us sitting straight up as developers introduce software and hardware to make the transition seamless. Streaming online content or watching cable TV through a single display will very much become mainstream in the year following CES 2011.
In addition to the already available Apple TV, Roku, and Google TV, consumers will be introduced to other options that allow them to connect their televisions to the internet. Cisco and RCA are just two of the companies that are expected to announce dedicated set-top boxes that allow for this connectivity.
Featuring online streaming, Netflix availability, fully functioning web browsers and — in all likelihood — third-party applications, these products will eliminate the need for multiple machines by fulfilling all possible media consumption needs.
This will be a highly competitive market as each product strives to become the single media device in your home. The content available on each platform will ultimately dictate market share.
CES 2011 will finally show us some of the domestic technology that has been promised by countless science-fiction movies — smart cars, smart appliances, smart everything connected to a network and software that optimizes their use and efficiency.
Though refrigerators with embedded displays are common, they are quite simplistic, relative to what will be introduced this year. LG has already announced a line of smart appliances, each featuring its THiNQ brand technology.
This line includes smart ovens, refrigerators, washers and dryers, all of which have the ability to communicate through a centralized network. In addition to other functions, that allows a consumer to automatically make use of lower electricity prices during off-peak hours.
We will also see innovation in the automotive field. With systems like Ford SYNC reaching maturity, and Microsoft joining the list of competitors, it could revolutionize an industry previously isolated from consumer electronics and networking.
As wireless networks become faster and more extensive, this technology will become more common as well. With similar product announcements to come, this year's show will provide a peak into the seemingly futuristic capabilities of smart connectivity.
More 3D TV
3D television headlined CES 2010 despite the fact that very few of the introduced products made it into our living rooms. At this year's show, producers of 3D displays are expected to return with a more refined and appealing sales pitch to consumers.
Producers like Sony and Toshiba have begun to knock out obstacles that have prevented wide adoption of 3D TV. Though price points may still render the technology somewhat inaccessible, Toshiba has announced 3D displays that do not require glasses to view.
In addition to this, distributors like VUDU are adding 3D content to their video-on-demand services. If providers can offer a large enough library, it will accelerate the adoption of 3D. Content distribution will be essential to the growth of the market.
This combination of innovative hardware and software will ensure that 3D technology remains visible at this year's CES and will continue to gain momentum in a niche marketplace. However, as seen in the past with Blu-ray and DVDs, 3D TV growth will be strongly hindered by price.
The mobile phone platform annually shows some of the most exciting innovation and this year is no different. The accessibility and creativity of the platform grabs the attention of consumers at every CES.
This year's high-end products will feature both 4G capabilities — the fastest wireless data connection speeds currently available — as well as dual-core mobile processors.
Phones containing that powerful hardware will easily trump any comparable phone available today, however the ability to balance this while maintaining battery life will ultimately dictate how successful these devices are.
Similar to tablets, this field will be dominated by Google's Android. With RIM and Apple — the primary competition in North America — focusing on a limited range of products, users will find Android on a record number of devices at this CES.
CES 2011 will also begin to blur the lines between what is considered a cellphone and any other portable media player. With larger screen sizes expected and full HD video playback capabilities, it will become increasingly easy to categorize these products as miniature computers rather than dedicated phones.