Tablets, smartphones and TVs upstage PCs at CES

PC makers made fewer product announcements than in past years

PCs were upstaged by tablets, smartphones and TVs at this year's International CES show, with some companies maintaining a smaller presence or holding back product announcements for a later date.

There were fewer product announcements from PC makers compared to previous years, with some companies waiting for the GSMA Mobile World Congress in Barcelona Feb. 25-28.

"I think the timing of CES was bad this year for the PC cycle, and several did mention MWC as a venue for their next announcements," said Roger Kay, president of Endpoint Technologies Associates, who attended the show.

Asus canceled a scheduled CES press conference, delaying product announcements to MWC. Acer was virtually absent at this year's show after it held a press conference last year to announce ultrabooks. Hewlett-Packard, the world's top PC maker, announced Pavilion Sleekbook laptops ahead of CES and showed those at small media events on the sidelines. Dell showed off incremental upgrades to its Inspiron laptops and Latitude tablet, and also announced a thin client for businesses called Project Ophelia, which failed to draw a lot of interest.

"Major industry and trade shows continue to be focal points and bring together customers, partners and influencers, and as a result many vendors opt to use these events as platforms for announcements," said a Dell spokeswoman Ellen Murphy in an email. She declined to comment on Dell's plans for MWC.

Lenovo maintained high visibility with new products like the IdeaCentre Horizon table PC getting attention. As in past years, the Chinese company rented out the Aquaknox bar at the Venetian, but it did not hold a press conference for mainstream media. Lenovo was thrilled with the response it got at CES, a company spokeswoman said in an email.

Tablets with Windows 8 were introduced by small companies like Vizio, Panasonic and Razer, while Android tablets were shown by Archos, Coby, Polaroid and RCA. Intel, Advanced Micro Devices, Nvidia and Qualcomm also took center stage, announcing chips that could be used in future smartphones, tablets and PCs.

The shift at CES from a focus on PCs to mobile devices reflects the overall market shift, with PCs increasingly taking a back seat to tablets and smartphones, which are finding wider use for basic computing, Web browsing, video and email. Smart TVs are taking on some of the functionality of PCs, allowing users to browse the Web and stream videos from websites like Netflix.

The PC market is weak with traditional laptops and desktops no longer the centerpiece of IT, said IDC research director David Daoud, who was not surprised that the PC presence was subdued at CES. The PC market is in the process of a reboot, Daoud said. New thin-and-light laptop designs are being developed with tablet-like features such as touchscreens and detachable hinges, which could attract a whole new set of buyers.

"That's going to take a bit of time to sort out consumer attitudes and get full acceptance," Daoud said.

A number of PCs due for release this year were also announced in tandem with Windows 8, which is perhaps why companies made no major PC announcements at CES.

"Still, consumers are attracted to all-things tablets, iPads, accessories and gadgets, and so it's no surprise that PCs took a back stage," Daoud said.

The PC market was largely represented by Intel, which showed off a range of ultrabooks with its latest chips. But Microsoft was missing after a big presence last year to raise awareness for Windows 8, which was released on PCs in late October. PC makers such as Acer and Lenovo piggybacked on Microsoft at last year's CES, announcing new ultrabooks and PCs running the new OS.

With the PC market in transition, the mix of players at CES is shifting, as marked by the hand off of the opening keynote from Microsoft to Qualcomm, Endpoint Technologies' Kay said.

Some unfinished hybrid ultrabook designs and tablets with wireless connectivity were shown by device makers and those products could be officially announced at MWC, Kay said.

Michael Walkley, managing director and senior equity analyst at financial firm Canaccord Genuity, agreed with Kay, saying MWC has always been important when it comes to wireless technology, and is gaining in importance.

"MWC is a huge wireless show, I've attended for 14 years now. To me it has always been significant, but it may be growing given the growth in smartphones and tablets versus PCs," Walkley said.

Although CES appears to be shifting away from PCs, it will always remain a solid show for the latest in consumer electronics, analysts agreed.

"There is a great deal of creativity and innovation brought about in the rise of these new generations of electronic devices and that provides CES an opportunity to do well," IDC's Daoud said. "On the other hand, the industry has other choices as well and that means more competition for CES."

Agam Shah covers PCs, tablets, servers, chips and semiconductors for IDG News Service. Follow Agam on Twitter at @agamsh. Agam's e-mail address is agam_shah@idg.com

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