Ultrabooks, tablets and 3D TVs dominated recent versions of the International Consumer Electronics Show, the annual launching pad for tech innovation.
This year's conference, which runs Tuesday through Friday in Las Vegas, should carry a slightly different flavor.
While TV manufacturers will try to draw attention to yet another display technology — Ultra HD — a single, game-changing product line isn't expected to flood the show floor like a year ago when computer makers unveiled about 50 Ultrabooks or in 2011 when tablets went wild.
Instead, a few early themes have emerged:
• A platform war for control of a vehicle's in-dash touchscreen.
• A growing focus on startups and early-stage companies
• The rise of perceptual computing, where controlling a laptop moves beyond type and touch to gestures and face recognition.
"Mobile and wireless is becoming the centerpiece on a lot of this stuff," said Jefferson Wang, mobile practice lead for IBB Consulting Group. "If you look at the companies that did really well (in 2012), they had heavy mobile strategies — Google, Apple and those guys. If you look at the folks that didn't have a heavy mobile strategy, like Facebook and Yahoo, they were punished."
The preshow keynote — to be delivered Monday by Qualcomm chairman Paul Jacobs — will focus on mobile technology. The cellphone chipmaker is taking over the high-profile kick-off position vacated by Microsoft, which said last year that CES' January slot no longer fits with the timing of its product announcements.
This year's show is expected to attract at least 150,000 attendees and 3,300 exhibitors covering nearly 2 million square feet of exhibit space.
"This is going to be a record-breaking show for us as far as exhibit space is concerned," said Karen Chupka, senior vice president for
John Shippy, left, and Roger Chavez test the Emperor 1510 computer workstation at last year's CES show. This year's show will focus on computers that go beyond touch, like cameras and sensors, says Intel's spokesman.
Eight automakers are among this year's exhibitors, an unusually high number for the show. There were six car manufacturers in 2012. The connected car is the primary focus this year.
Will automakers control the smart-dash, or will it just be a mirror image of the smartphone stream? Initially, the brains of the system will be built into the car itself, Wang said.
"Ultimately, as the ecosystem matures, it may just be an extension of the smartphone," he said.
While the trade show has always been a place for emerging companies to showcase products, this is only the second year for the startup-specific Eureka Park.
The area is expected to feature 140 startups, up from 101 a year ago. Fees for the often cash-strapped early-stage companies start at $1,000, compared with $3,700 to $4,300 for standard exhibit booths.
"The technology industry is really helping to drive startups, drive new technology, and so we wanted to make sure that there is a focused area for companies that want to do this," Chupka said. "It is a way to make it more cost-effective for small, truly new startups to come into the show to be able to find a place for themselves."
Eureka Park will include a Startup Stage this year where speakers will cover topics such as how to raise funding. The Consumer Electronics Association, the industry trade group that produces the show, also recently announced a reduced-rate membership category exclusively for startups.
Technologies to be showcased there include an air-based, multitouch computer monitor — think "Minority Report" — and speech-recognition software that may enable natural language voice conversations for consumer-oriented websites.
In the main CES exhibit halls, more touchscreen computers will be introduced this year as manufacturers realize that Microsoft's Windows 8 operating system doesn't offer the same experience on a standard machine. There should also be another wave of convertible laptops — machines that can quickly transform into a tablet, such as the Lenovo Yoga.
Intel's next-gen computer chip, code-named "Haswell," will give Ultrabooks and convertibles more processing power as well as longer battery life. It will also provide the muscle for perceptual computing, integrating voice, gestures and facial movements to operate the machine.
"This is where things are headed, beyond touch," said Intel spokesman Bill Calder. "There are a lot of technologies — camera, sensors, etc. — coming together now to enable some new experiences."
One example would be a program that uses a computer's webcam to monitor a user's eye movements to zoom in on a section of a website.
For every hit that debuts at CES, like the Xbox gaming console, there are plenty that flop.
One of the biggest duds in recent years is the 3D TV, which has failed to gain widespread adoption. The latest TV technology is Ultra HD, previously known as 4K because it offers four times the resolution of HD.
But Ultra HD will generally be geared toward 55-inch TVs or bigger, pricing it out of most households.
Hovering over TV makers at this year's show is Apple's rumored effort to produce a TV set. With its loyal fan base and easy-to-use devices, its entry would likely shake up the smart, or connected, TV space. Thus far, difficult on-screen navigation, among other things, have plagued smart TVs powered by Google, perhaps Apple's chief competitor.
Andy Vuong : 303-954-1209, email@example.com
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