No Microsoft at CES 2013? No problem

International consumer electronics show expects to match record crowds next week

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There's also been talk of smartphones running not only dual- or quad-cores, but octo-cores, Llamas said. A big theme with Android devices will be those that run the new generation Android OS, called Jelly Bean.

While many smartphone vendors will push larger and faster devices, Llamas said, "I'm kind of done with the spec war." A theme of CES will be about usage cases for various devices, including a wider promotion of applications to support new uses.

Llamas said that means vendors should, and will, talk about the kinds of experiences they can offer with smartphones and tablets, such as how to use Near-Field Communication (NFC) or augmented reality with a handheld device.

Nokia has talked about using augmented reality in conjunction with its Lumia line of smartphones, offering the example of a user holding up a phone to a street filled with stores. In the smartphone's display, the augmented reality will take advantage of GPS information and identify the various stores and restaurants within view, with their names superimposed over the phone's image of the storefront.

What will happen in future generations of augmented reality is that a user can drill down on that information, accessing data on the menu served at a restaurant seen in the display, and also seeing reviews by prior customers. Llamas said he expects Qualcomm and Intel chips to support this level of functionality in smartphones and tablets in 2013.

"Augmented reality will be the place to be for vendors for 2013, moving it past novelty-ware and entertainment," Llamas said. "Nokia has been a frontrunner."

Gartner analyst Carolina Milanesi said that CES 2013 will also continue the trend of the "blurring of the line between smartphones and tablets," in the same vein as the Samsung Galaxy Note II, with its digital stylus and its 5.5-in. screen.

Called "phablets" by many for combining a phone with a tablet, Huawei is expected to show off the Ascend Mate at CES, featuring a 6.1-in. screen and a quad-core chip and a phone. Gizmodo notably called it a "monster," adding, "Where will this hugification finally end? Apparently not at half a foot."

Several analysts said that vendors have to be wary not to make users laugh or reject their phablet inventions. "I still believe those in-between devices have too much compromise for most users," Milanesi said.

The big trends for actual tablets sans phones at CES will be higher resolution screens and lower prices, several analysts said. "You'll see high definition displays even on low cost tablets, and Android tablets for under $150 from Asian manufacturers mainly," said Bill Rom, a consultant for 151 Advisors.

What Rom hopes will emerge at CES is some broader recognition of the needs for greater security and privacy as wireless network speeds and device processor speeds increase.

"I don't know that enough is being done with privacy and security protections, and so far there's not been a big enough of a security breach to push the need as high as it should be," Rom said. "I suppose vendors don't want to scare people from buying stuff."

CES will actually feature security and identity software vendors as well as an array of applications for smartphones and tablets. In general, analysts including Milanesi expect less of an emphasis on hardware than in recent years with more of an emphasis on software, applications and uses of hardware in various network settings.

CES spokeswoman Dunion said that CES 2013 will actually house the "world's largest app show," bringing in more apps vendors than in 2012 and showing off apps that offer a little of everything.

As for the absence of Microsoft at CES, analysts agreed with CES officials that it won't probably do much to hurt the trade show and should actually help Microsoft.

"I don't think it will matter whether Microsoft has a booth at CES," Rom said. "They always have their own events and their own launches and are focused on building out their own ecosystem. The problem for Microsoft will still be getting developers interested in consumer apps" for Windows Phone and Windows 8 tablets.

However, Jack Gold, an analyst at J. Gold Associates, said the absence of Microsoft at CES in 2013 raises questions for CES and other major trade shows that cover many technologies well beyond wireless -- including digital TVs and more -- as trade show promoters seek out a multiplicity of vendors, small and large, to purchase booth space.

"CES is getting to the point of being unwieldy," Gold said.

Matt Hamblen covers mobile and wireless, smartphones and other handhelds, and wireless networking for Computerworld. Follow Matt on Twitter at  @matthamblen or subscribe to Matt's RSS feed. His email address is mhamblen@computerworld.com.

See more by Matt Hamblen on Computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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