By Richard Koman / Top Tech News. Updated January 05, 2010.
Now that Google has finally announced its Nexus One Android-based smartphone, attention can turn to this week's annual Consumer Electronics Show, traditionally the marquee event for tech gadgets from smartphones to laptops to gaming. This year, organizers expect 2,500 exhibitors and 110,000 attendees, not bad for a recession year and no worse than last year, but still down from pre-recession numbers of 140,000-plus attendees.
The big story this year is flat, touchscreen computers -- call them tablets, e-readers, slates or what have you.
Eyes on Apple
Of course, the biggest news in computer tablets will not be made at CES. Consumers and analysts are looking toward Jan. 26, when Apple is expected to announce its tablet entry, which many observers expect to be named the iSlate.
Greg Sterling, principal analyst with Sterling Market Research, said CES watchers are interested in mobile devices in general, "but tablets are the hot devices this year, with the Apple tablet being the source of the most speculation."
While Apple has said nothing about the device, reports indicate it plans a major product announcement in San Francisco. Observers expect CEO Steve Jobs to announce a sub-$1,000, 10-inch, flat screen, multi-touch PC that has been described as an "iPhone on steroids." It will be focused on delivering movies, music and multimedia entertainment -- and come preloaded with links to magazine, newspaper and television content, as Apple has been reported to be involved in content deals with publishers and broadcasters.
While manufacturers big and small seeking to compete with Apple will have their work cut out for them, that doesn't mean CES won't be loaded with tablet readers. Some tablets, like the OEM platform Freescale Semiconductors announced Monday, will cost $199 for a seven-inch tablet.
Whether low-cost tablets will deliver the computing power necessary for a satisfying user experience is an open question, though. Amazon.com's grayscale Kindle has received some rough treatment from reviewers but has been a sales success, indicating there is consumer demand for lightweight portable devices and likely a pent-up demand for color, general-purpose tablets.
Some writers, like The New York Times' David Carr, have hailed Apple's rumored device as the savior of the troubled news industry. But in the Apple scenario, publishers' content becomes mere "product" to be sold by Apple, which would control pricing and promotion. For good reason, publishers aren't crazy about subverting their brands to Apple's.
Skiff Reader Debuts
Trying to get in the e-reader game without ceding control to Silicon Valley, Skiff, a consortium backed by Hearst, has partnered with Sprint to deliver the Skiff reader, a flat-screen e-reader for digital versions of print magazines and newspapers, and ultimately blogs.
Consortium members include Time Warner, Conde Nast, Hearst, News Corp., and Meredith. That's a formidable lineup, but it's not clear how much content will actually be available. While the device's size, weight and form factor are appealing, the consortium may be asking consumers to buy a device and trust that compelling content will arrive.
"Aside from what the consortium publishers are offering, where is the content?" Richard Laermer, author of Punk Marketing and 2011: Trendspotting, asked. "Right now, they are asking consumers to buy a high-end device but to wait for the rest of the content. I am not sure that is enough."