Perhaps the greatest annual celebration of gadgets in the world, the 2012 International CES in Las Vegas is nearly upon us. Filled with everything from iPhone-controlled helicopters to televisions to water-cooled gaming PCs, there's quite literally something for everyone at the show. If you can't find it here, it's a safe bet you won't find it anywhere.
Of course, covering a show of this magnitude is no small feat. Over the course of the next week and a half, you'll see The Verge transform its entire operation into a mobile editorial and production studio as we migrate to Sin City for the most in-depth coverage of the show — from every angle imaginable — that you'll find anywhere. What can we expect to see at CES this year? Let's have a look.
Could Windows Phone be the toast of CES? It hasn't been since Mobile World Congress in February of 2010 that Microsoft's mobile platform has truly stolen a show, but a flurry of rumors in recent days suggests that we could be seeing an awful lot of it next week: the HTC Radiant, Samsung Mandel, and Nokia Ace are all said to be on tap for the American market (though some or all will have different names by the time they're announced). Critically, all three will allegedly support LTE — a first for Windows Phone, and a near-requirement for new smartphones on Verizon and AT&T — so that's an important checkbox for Microsoft to be able to tick going into 2012.
Could Windows Phone be the toast of CES?
Of the three, the Nokia Ace might be getting the most attention. Nokia's all-in attempt at a comeback atop Windows Phone is just getting underway, and this CES will effectively serve as the company's coming-out party in the US. Though the Lumia 710 will be launching on T-Mobile in the next few days, it's the much lovelier Lumia 800 hardware many are waiting for; the Ace looks poised to provide that, possibly with a slightly larger display than its European stablemate.
What about Android? Many manufacturers may be saving their big guns for Mobile World Congress next month. Samsung and HTC, in particular, are poised for huge showings in Barcelona: Samsung will likely announce its flagship Galaxy S III, while HTC is rumored to be showing a selection of next-generation devices with quad-core processors and LTE radios. Moreover, manufacturers have often devoted their presence at each show primarily to one platform or another — undoubtedly to keep Google and Microsoft happy — and with this round of Windows Phone hardware on tap for CES, Android could very well be taking a back seat for a few weeks. One exception should be Intel, which plans to demonstrate both phones and tablets running Android atop its ultra low-power Medfield platform.
Image credit: Pocketnow
We know one thing for sure about CES 2012: there will be a lot of ultrabooks. Yes, all the major (and non-major) computer manufacturers are expected to join Intel's thin and light push at the show, with over 30 to 50 ultrabooks expected to be on display. It's hard to say specifically which companies will be bringing new systems to Vegas, but it looks like HP's got a very thin Spectre ready for us and that Dell may finally jump into the pool.
For the most part, we expect these to continue down a similar line as the ones that we have already reviewed — they'll be very thin, powered by Intel Sandy Bridge processors, and boot very quickly thanks to solid state drives. But we're also anticipating Intel to dominate the ultrabook messaging with new details of its Ivy Bridge processors, which will be arriving in April or May. Not only will these new chips provide better performance, but the new graphics are supposed to squash any thoughts you've ever had about integrated graphics being inadequate.
Naturally that means Intel will also be talking about those good old regular laptops, and like years past, we expect companies to show off a number of systems that won't make it to market until the summer. Last but not least, most of these will be running Windows 7, but we do expect some companies to start showing some Windows 8 laptops. It’s going to be a big year in computing, and it all kicks off next week in Vegas — get ready!
CES isn't typically a banner show for photography lovers, but thanks to a partnership between with the annual PMA convention, 2012 looks like an unusually big year for camera manufacturers in Vegas. Based on what we've seen in the last six months, we're betting on seeing a lot of new models that have faster processors, which opens up a world of improvements: faster autofocus, faster shooting, and generally better photos. Wi-Fi is also a feature we're starting to see in cameras, and that's a trend we expect to take off at CES — letting you share photos and video from your camera, without needing a computer at all.
As camera manufacturers try to prove their point-and-shoot models are better than your cameraphone, we're also going to see more zoom, more filters and funky shooting modes, and better lenses with larger, brighter apertures. Smaller, cheaper cameras will probably dominate CES as usual, but we could be in store for a splashier product as well: Nikon has been mum since Canon released its new flagship 1D X, but we've been hearing rumors that both the pro-level D4 (allegedly pictured on the right) and the D800 — a proper successor to the aging D700 — could be on their way.
CES isn't typically a banner show for cameras, but 2012 looks like an exception
Image credit: Nikon Rumors
Tablets have been dominating CES for the past two years, but 2012 might finally be the show where we talk about them because of their quality instead of quantity. On the hardware front, you've got Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 ready to steal the limelight, while the software side will be served by likely appearances by Android 4.0 and Windows 8, a pair of operating systems designed with the tablet form factor in mind.
HTC's Peter Chou has made a public promise that his company will return to the tablet wars with a truly standout device, though it remains to be seen whether he chooses to introduce it at CES. LG, Samsung, Acer, MSI, Lenovo, and Toshiba can all be expected to at least tease some upgrades to their Android tablet lines, though don't rule out the seemingly dormant Dell, either. If there's one downer to the developments of 2011 in the tablet realm, it's that we won't be seeing the same variety of software as we once did — there'll be no MeeGo, no webOS, and likely very little to see from RIM's PlayBook OS. Apple's absence from CES also guarantees we won't be seeing any movement on the iPad front, so if you're going to treat this year's show as your preview of tablets to buy in early 2012, it's going to be Android all the way for you.
Nvidia's quad-core Tegra 3 is ready to steal the limelight
Every year is a supposed "break-out year" for Home Automation. Unfortunately, this ancient yet nascent field of consumer electronics continues to be the purview of tinkerers and hackers with no unifying force in sight. Nevertheless, the biggest guns in home automation will once again be on hand, including the Z-Wave and ZigBee Alliances with dozens of members in tow, as well as Somfy and Crestron more notable for their proprietary solutions. Crestron, in particular, will be interesting to watch as it begins baking its home automation intelligence directly into networked devices like Blu-ray players, TVs, and home theater receivers — just plug them into your network and begin monitoring and controlling your gear from any web-enabled smartphone, tablet, or computer.
CES isn't traditionally a show for video games — if you want that, check out E3, GDC, Tokyo Game Show, PAX, various Comic Cons, and so forth — but with two major game consoles coming out, this year's a bit different. Sony's PlayStation Vita has just launched in Japan and will be making its way to North America and Europe in February, so this in-between time is perfect to showcase its English-language launch titles and (admittedly powerful) hardware. Meanwhile, Nintendo will be showing off the Wii U behind closed doors. Rumors suggest it'll be the same demos we saw at E3 last June, which makes since given the comany's announcement that the Wii U's final form won't be shown off until this E3 in early June. As for Microsoft, we're not expecting any major Xbox- or Kinect-related announcements — again, E3 is usually where those reveals are made.
Outside the major game companies, we expect to see a number of accessories from the good (Nyko and MadCatz) to the amusing (hundreds of unknown companies with a veritable sea of cheap plastic peripherals). The wild card for us is Razer, which is hyping Project Fiona, an "all new form factor" (we're guessing Switchblade), in addition to the recently-delayed Blade gaming laptop.
TVs are always out in force at CES, and this year promises to be a major inflection point for the industry: 3D has been a flop, and last year's smart TV launches have failed to have any impact. What's more, consumers are moving away from cable and satellite TV entirely in favor of streaming services on tablets and laptops. The result is a TV industry in turmoil, with big players like Sony and Panasonic cutting production and ending manufacturing deals in an effort to stay afloat. That sets the stage for a CES where the TV industry needs to explain why it's still a relevant and vital force in the technology universe, with everything from user interface to content delivery to even how televisions are bought and sold up for review.
We're expecting a particular emphasis on Google TV — Marvell has already announced a new ARM-based reference design for Google's living room OS, and a variety of vendors are rumored to be announcing GTV products, including Samsung, LG, and Sony. Of course, the big question for Google is whether or not it can convince cable or satellite providers to natively support Google TV, so we'll be looking for news on that front as well — the platform can't survive without real TV integration. We're also expecting to see each manufacturer continue to push their own bespoke smart TV platforms, as nearly every TV will ultimately become a smart TV.
Cable and satellite companies will also be out in force to show off their newfound love of internet delivery — expect to see a lot of news about streaming your cable to tablets, consoles, and phones, with a particular emphasis on interface, search, and discovery. Once Comcast is nothing more than another app on your tablet, it'll have to compete directly with Netflix and iTunes, and the cable companies are starting to rise to the challenge.
Lastly, CES will have some interesting news on the TV hardware front as well: LG will be showing off a 55-inch OLED TV (the word on the street is that Samsung will be showing something similar), and we should see the first wave of 4K TVs that offer nearly four times the resolution of traditional 1080p for cinema-quality visuals in the home.
With two major game consoles coming out, this year's a bit different
So as you can see, CES is going to be an action-packed week as always. We'll also be saying goodbye to a staple of the show: 2012 marks the final year that Microsoft will have a floor presence. For anyone who's been following CES (and COMDEX) over the years, the news has to get you just a little misty-eyed; keynote addresses by Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer have been focal points of the event for as long as we can remember. On top of the expected Windows Phone news, we're hearing that Ballmer will be showing off Office for Windows 8 during his final keynote — a key piece of the Windows 8 puzzle, no question. We're also hearing that OneNote and Lync could take on the so-called "Metro-style" look and feel while the remainder of the Office suite will carry on as traditional, non-Metro desktop apps. Ballmer delivers his address on Monday night, so we don't have long to find out.
Finally, there are a few things we do not expect to see at CES. Apple won't make any announcements because the company doesn't even go to CES anymore (we can almost definitely expect an event before the end of January... but that's another story for a different day); Facebook, Twitter, and the other big social companies likely won't have much of a presence at the show so we don't expect much there, and, in fact, CES has historically had almost no big app announcements, so unless something far out of left field appears, that trend will likely continue. Sure, there will be plenty of surprises that even we can't anticipate, so be sure you're right here when we hit Las Vegas in just a few days.