CES 2012: Why Apple will steal the show (again)

By Jonny Evans

Hold onto your hats: CES 2012 is coming and it seems Apple [AAPL] will dominate once again, even without being there. That's because the firm has already set its stall with products and services which match the trends we'll see emerging as ever so, ever so important this year.


CES hears Apple's echo

Unlike the sound of a Harley growling its way down a long, straight road, the pre-CES buzz isn't great. There have been reports Microsoft isn't interested in maintaining its long-held association with the West Coast trade show.

Outside of the Apple universe, tablet device makers entering the fray will walk on a series of corpses. For every tablet prototype shown this year, think back to the hundred or so revealed at CES in 2011. Many of these never hit the shops. The ones that did ship didn't make the grade. Ask yourself what happened to...

  • BlackBerry PlayBook -- 800,000 or so of these slipped into retail chains. Few purchases. RIM lost $485 million.
  • Archos 70 -- No word on sales, but discounted by 25 percent and more, so probably very few.
  • Dell Streak -- Slammed by the Wall Street Journal, Dell discontinued the Streak (except in China) by December 2011.
  • Motorola Xoom -- Version one was declared the "Best of CES" last year, the Xoom 2 was released in November. Under a million of these have sold into retail.
  • HP TouchPad -- HP's move to sell these things cheap helped boost sales to close to a million, but the webOS tablet has failed to dent Apple's market.

Then there's Samsung Galaxy Tab. Sales aren't Apple-level fantastic and its iterations have failed to achieve mass market status in most territories. That's despite media coverage of the Apple v. Samsung litigation.


[ABOVE: This is not an iPad. This is not an iPad. This is not an iPad...]

The X Factor

Why is this? Why is there this insanely great disconnect between success for vendors outside of the Apple-verse and those within? Is it imagination? Innovation? Design? Poor consumer messaging? A lack of wit?

Ovum analyst, Nick Dillon, believes competitors may have a chance in the enterprise markets, assuming they can deliver good products at lower prices, and that they "need to be cleverer" in terms of what they offer. It isn't about pale Apple imitations. Whatever the case, Apple still holds an estimated 61.5 percent of the so-called 'tablet market'.

"By 2016, at least 50 percent of enterprise email users will rely primarily on a browser, tablet or mobile client instead of a desktop client," said Gartner recently.

In a sense that doesn't matter. At one time Apple competed directly with CES with its own IDG Events-sponsored Macworld Expo. Apple's quit the show, but across the last decade, Apple's announcements have led industry trends above those put forward at CES.


The winning team

This is going to continue. There's concern that Apple may have lost its way since the death of Steve Jobs. Sundry soothsayers say that without his hands on the tiller, Apple will float leaderless and uninspired and innovation will go flat.

That's just fantasy. A fantasy driven by competitors who still can't seem to get it right. Apple's agenda for 2012 will include:

Arguably the most important element to all of this will be the evolution of the iCloud. iCloud shows a future in which all your Macs, PCs and devices will have access to all your data. Users get the convenience of access to all their information on any of their registered devices, Apple gains a way to tie content into its product ecosystem in order to boost device sales.

Broadband availability is likely to limit cloud-based service offerings for the next few years, but as infrastructure investment increases you can expect these services to improve.


The connected digital universe

The cloud will back up all Apple's hardware adventures, from total music access using iTunes Match to television show streaming via iTunes and the Apple TV.

This is quite a problem for those introducing new services at CES. I think everyone now understands that you need a good, robust media content acquisition system if you want to sell mobile devices.

Who has this? Amazon, and to a lesser extent, Google.

The problem for hardware vendors is the challenge to integrate a third party service within a unique, differentiated user experience. Also manufacturers don't make money from these sales, money they desperately need if they want to make a viable business.

This is a platform war

There's plenty of activity in multiple sectors to reinforce the notion that cloud services will be a dominant topic in IT this year. Take a look at M2M, Unified Communications, video conferencing and more. All these sectors are on the way up this year, and will drive new adventures in the cloud. There's also been some pretty grim warnings that security may be compromised.

Apple has all the trappings of success. It dominates in most of its industry sectors and is flying high. This may not last as analysts warn that at least one major cloud-based services vendor will go down in a mass of malware as hackers target cloud services.

There's much to play for: over 50 percent of the world's biggest 1,000 companies are expected to store customer-sensitive data in the cloud by the end of 2016.

Apple fans may note that Android is a less secure system than iOS, but success breeds challenge, so iPads, iPhones and other AAPL devices will likely be targeted this year by malware miscreants. Will Apple keep them out of the magic kingdom?

Access, architecture and M2M

It must. "Nearly 1 in 5 professionals with three or more devices will adopt a personal cloud service for online storage, backup and synching."

2012 is also the year of LTE. This will replace WiMax in that technology's most entrenched Asia-Pacific markets. Broadband penetration will pass 10 percent globally. IPTV, software as service, cloud-based solutions, the app economy and new media services will evolve.

Apple's unconfirmed plans to introduce its own Apple-branded iTunes-savvy smart TVs isn't just about broadcasting, it also matches a trend we'll see emerge this year which favors connected devices.

Apple reportedly has a team developing wearable and other prototypes for the iOS ecosystem. Mobile carriers are sniffing at this new market with interest, hoping to provide the broadband infrastructure to keep these new M2M connections active, as we evolve smart cities for the 21st Century.

"Two areas that are beginning to see growth in the M2M segment are the in-home and automotive sectors. Both segments witnessed initial traction with Bluetooth technologies that allowed for the connection of devices using the short-range technology. But more powerful radio technologies are now making their way into both avenues, providing greater capabilities and opportunities," said IDATE Consulting and Research.

Apple is ahead of the trends

The cloud, post-PC, media access and acquisition, integrating mobile devices into enterprise markets, security, broadband and LTE roll-out and new breeds of M2M devices are just some of the buzzwords CES attendees will be chucking around at the show this year.

The sad fact is that in doing so they'll still be playing catch-up to adroit Apple, as while they try to interest us all in what they've got coming there's no escaping that in many of these sectors Apple already has a service or device offering in place.

And as for Windows 8? Better luck next year.

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Copyright © 2012 IDG Communications, Inc.

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