CES, the world's largest consumer technology trade show, started yesterday.
Despite the economy and speculation about the economy's impact on CES this year, CES seems to be doing alright this year and is still one of the most important technology trade shows in the world; the place where hot new consumer gadgets are launched and big announcements made.
Here are the 3 biggest news items from CES 2009, in my opinion.
The Palm Pre
With the Apple iPhone, Blackberry Bold, and Google G1, some might ask whether the world needs another sleek smart phone.
Palm thinks so. The company that basically started the smart phone market but has fallen upon hard times as competitors eclipsed it is back. Big time.
The Pre is definitely stylish and one analyst says it "features the best user interface in the smartphone world today." That's quite a statement.
It has a touch screen with a 'gesture bar' designed to make controlling the device easier with one hand, a slide-out keyboard, a wireless charging station and an accelerometer.
But the software seems to be where the Pre really shines. Covert states:
"I think this phone's biggest appeal will be the central role the internet plays in the OS. The way it pulls data from various web services, and melds it into its own framework is top notch."
According to Palm's executive chairman Jon Rubinstein, Palm is "just getting started." That would be good news for the investors who just poured $100mn into Palm but bad news for Apple, Research in Motion and other handset manufacturers.
The Pre will go on sale later in the year in the United States with Sprint and a 3G version is in development for Europe.
Microsoft releases Windows 7 Beta
Telling the audience at CES that "No matter what happens with the economy, or how long this recession lasts, I believe that our digital lives will continue to get richer," Microsoft CEO clearly has lots of hope for the future.
A big part of that future for Microsoft is Windows 7, the successor to Windows Vista. Ballmer claims that Windows 7 will be "the best version of Windows ever."
Given the relatively lackluster uptake of Windows Vista, one might argue that it almost has to be.
While the final version of Windows 7 is expected late this year or early 2010, Microsoft made Windows 7 Beta available to members of Microsoft Connect, MSDN and TechNet.
Then it was released to the first 2.5 million public downloaders.
Preston Gralla of Computerworld gave Windows 7 Beta a whirl and calls it a "a solid, fast-performing, stable operating system that appears to be just about fully baked and ready for prime time."
What's new? There's a new task bar, 'jump lists' that highlight actions and items associated with an application, Aero Peek, which lets you see the desktop behind any window without having to minimize everything, and a slightly faster boot time.
All and all, everything I've read leaves me with the impression that many do believe Windows 7 is poised to be a much better OS than Vista but the real question is, of course, will the consumer population agree?
If television is dying, you wouldn't know it by attending CES.
Television manufacturers have clearly been spending a lot of time thinking of ways to make the television more advanced. From Panasonic's 103-inch plasma 3-D display to LCDs with massive refresh rates to wireless HDTVs that pull their high-def signals without cords, there were plenty of impressive television innovations on exhibition.
Of course, as the Los Angeles Times' David Colker points out:
"All of this state-of-the-art TV tech -- much of it not yet available -- is extremely expensive, which is even more of a consideration for buyers in these recessionary times."
There were also announcements at CES related to internet-television convergence, which many have been predicting for some time. Three of the more prominent:
- Yahoo-enabled TVs, which should go on sale this Spring, feature 'widgets' that will enable their owners to access popular Yahoo and third-party internet services, including MySpace and YouTube.
- Microsoft announced a channel for its Xbox Live service that provides content and events that the Xbox console pulls from the internet.
- LG announced a deal with Netflix that will enable Netflix subscribers with Netflix-enabled LG televisions to stream Netflix movies to those TVs directly from the web. Netflix said similar deals are in the works and that "the goal for Netflix is to be ubiquitous."
So is television-internet convergence finally here? The technology seems to be ready. The question that still remains is whether or not consumers are ready.
One thing is for sure - in a tough economic environment, there were still more than a few interesting announcements made and innovative products released at CES. Clearly, when it comes to the technology side of the equation, the vendors at CES aren't letting the present get in the way of focusing on the future. Judging by what they brought this year, they expect that future to be very bright.