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CES 2012. Expectations, Doubts and Traveller’s Notes
Moscow is always empty on holydays and it looks like a ghost town on Christmas. There were very few holiday makers in the Sheremetyevo airport – mostly people on business trips. A lot of travellers who were going to the US were like me going to CES. Unlike its European counterparts CES is not called an expo or a congress, no – it is a show, very American. It seems like countries tried to outclass each other coming up with names for mobile events – Barcelona calls a congress with international coming second while the key word is mobile. And it is only natural as the entertainment capital of the US can only host a show. This amazing trade expo became important in the 2000s when American carriers woke up saw that they needed to catch up with and take over their European counterparts. Every bird like its nest and for me, of course, trade expos mean telecom expos. Anyway, it is hard to underestimate the importance of CES as the flagship event of the consumer electronics world. While good old Europe is still hung over after Christmas and New Year, the US hosts the show where you can see TVs, laptops, gadgets etc. that will be on sale later this year. As if in a hurry to outdo Europe CES always starts very early around January 4 but this year no one is contesting the leadership of this show so European companies got a few extra days at the expo. Unfortunately, the former glory of Hannover CeBIT is gone and this expo is very boring after CES. However, IFA in September also does not get a lot of love – all manufacturers still make their biggest announcements in Vegas. This is why I have to be here even though I don’t expect any shockers. As for now I want to get to my travelling notes.
A Day Long Road Movie
There are no direct flights from Moscow to Vegas so I had to fly to the east coast first and then take a local flight to the desert and the shining and glittering legend of the Strip. Choosing flights, planes and transfers is always a little adventure and, for some reason, I still prefer Aeroflot probably because it always decent service. I remember when Sheremetyevo was getting remodeled and there were lots of ads and commercials about how comfortable it was going to be frankly I expected the worst. Fortunately, the architects did a great job and took the best of the biggest airports but seem to have forgotten about electric sockets. There are no sockets in the departure lounges or in the green area – only the business lounge has got a few with some people always flocking to them. It may seem that the airport management tried to set some kind of a limit on socket connections.
Although, I must say that absence of electric sockets makes you plan your journey more carefully. If you are going to a Russian airport make sure all your devices are fully charged otherwise you may have to play some Mission Impossible stuff to charge them in the airport. In a Russian airport you can always spot a foreigner – wandering helplessly with a laptop or an iPad looking desperately for a socket. They have no idea that even the commercial stands in Russian airports have to struggle to get a power line as one of the airport employees told me.
When I get on the plane I hear a hurray as the depleted-gadget guy discovers USB ports on the side of his chair. He immediately draws a bundle of tangled wires and chargers out of a shabby looking backpack and commences to charge everything he has and shakes his head when he finds that the USB in his chair cannot charge his iPad. I am absolutely positive the guy who invents a really long lasting battery will become obscenely rich, get the Times man of the year and quite likely a Nobel Prize. He will also save billions of people the agony of running out of juice.
On the plane I compare my iPad to the onboard entertainment system and the latter looks really cheap: poor view angles and bleak colors – even my grandma would say it’s obsolete. However, most passengers put their gadgets away and start watching the movie on the tiny screen. It is, of course, not about the movie – everyone is just scared of running out of juice when they need it. I follow their example and put my iPad away, after all, it is a 10.5 hour flight.
Before I take trip I always try to sort out things at home. I feel a bit uncertain whether I will be able to finish what I have started when I return. It is not that I am anxious it has just become my tradition. Also, the last two years I cannot sleep in planes no matter what instead I watch movies, read and go through mail. Internet on planes is Satan’s work it makes time fly by and you realize just how much time we waste.
An hour and a half after we take off the plane returns back to Moscow for some technical reasons. This trip to CES made wait for another but very same plane which got me to New york in the promised 10.5 hours. Then I had to queue to get a transfer ticket and then there was another queue for a hotel voucher then I waited at reception to get a room. I napped for about two and a half hours than queued for the transfer flight. I am writing this sitting in the green area of the JFK airport sipping hot chocolate. I left home over 24 hours ago and I have yet 8 hours of travel. Yep, it happens.
The main New York airport unlike Sheremetyevo is a socket feast. It took a socket maniac to build this hub – every square inch of even surface can offer you a selection. I liked the Croque Madame cafe in Terminal 2: regular food but they have iPads srewed down to every table so you can offer fast. You cannot hold the iPads but with enough dexterity you can even browse the web. This culinary initiative belongs to ITG Eperience’s along with over a hundred other similar spots in the US.
Every table besides the laptops also offers two sockets and four USB ports so can charge up while you are having a snack. A Samsung Charging Station can also be found in the corner but no one is using it – everyone carries his own charger.
CES: My Expectations
We live in the world, where everything happens so fast that many marketologists get dizzy and cannot take their time. Prior to CES some companies make wild moves. Take for example Fuji, which unveiled 17 cameras at a time. I am sure that there are some good or even excellent solutions in this huge pile, but the company created too much noise to understand what really happened. Another example is the innovation from LG, which unveils not products, but the date of unveiling such products. Sometimes I wonder how much money marketologists can spend if they are not controlled by other departments. The main message remains the same: we created the largest TV ever and we will unveil it on…
The predictability of the marketplace becomes irritating. Apple alone can hide the information about the upcoming products. They intrigue the audience so much that the announcement of their products always generates discussions. This may be one of the reasons why Apple does not participate in CES as it does not want to be one of many. I have my own list of predictable and boring products to be shown at CES. If we look at them in accordance with investment efforts, then we have to start with Nokia. More than 10 years ago the Finnish company had 35% of the US market, but then began its fast downward move. An average American does not know what Nokia is and what they can offer. In US Nokia sells cheap solutions competing with similar handsets from LG and Samsung. Many view Nokia phones as a fake emulating high quality models from Korea. These are not my ideas, but words of local consumers, who are pragmatic while choosing a phone ignoring brand names (they do prefer Apple, Blackberry and Android as home brands).
In 2012 the president of the company Stephen Elop has to show his allegiance to Windows Phone 7, which he chose as the main OS for Nokia smartphones. In US carriers are not very enthusiastic about Nokia products, but if the company pays for it then why not. I remember how Nokia opened its centre in California dedicated solely to its cooperation with AT&T. The president of the company simply said: “We are back”. It sounded similar to the iconic “I’ll be back” phrase, but Nokia did not reach success. An exclusive Nokia 6555 clamshell was a flop and had to be sold around the world, but AT&T was happy when Nokia covered all expenses and paid a premium.
Therefore, a huge floor space occupied by Nokia at CES is not muscle flexing, but quite the opposite. The former market leader wastes money to show partners it is not dead yet. They agree, take money, but do not react appropriately. A key Nokia phone is another “flagship” Nokia Ace or Nokia 900, which replaces Nokia 800 after its several months of “glory”. Interestingly in June another flagship will triumphantly enter the market. My head is spinning around in this whirlwind of useless innovations. In fact Nokia 900 is a copy of Nokia 800 with bigger screen, LTE and absence of any unique selling point. You can look at this boring and uninspiring phone on pictures leaked online.
I don’t think we will be surprised during the official announcement and Nokia will show something meaningful. As always they will mention how the US market is crucial for them. This is outright bland.
Another boring event is the walking dead Playbook from Blackberry. A year ago CES was covered in banners about the first business tablet. The ads did not tell that the business solution has no inbuilt mail client! Think again: the company which created its empire around e-mail apps failed to add it to the flagship product. Intensive advertising of PlayBook played a dirty trick with Blackberry. They cannot drop it from the lineup, but it is difficult to carry on. Another year is gone and the company finally promises a mail client and updated interface at CES. It is too little too late.
I think no one will argue that Apple is a true “tablet king” and rivals can barely touch it. Throughout 2011 we heard messages about the drop in prices of competing solutions and every company tried to lose as much as it could in order to bridge the gap with the market leader. Remember that CES 2011 was dedicated predominantly to tablets and attempts of Google to target Apple. The impact was weak. Nevertheless, in 2012 everything is repeated with the onslaught of numerous tablets on Android 4.0. The variety is staggering, but the status quo remains unchanged. Apple vs the rest of the world.
For example, the introduction of Asus Transformer Prime is a desperate attempt to avoid the clash with iPad3. It is the first Android tablet with the quad core processor. The review of this interesting concept will appear on our website soon.
Visitors of CES will nod and greet Android tablets positively, but will wait for iPad3 impatiently. Everybody believes that the Apple model will be also equipped with a quad core processor. All new tablets are compared with iPad2 and expectations of the new “king” from Apple.
Among other key news it is worth to mention Microsoft, which is expected to reveal details of Windows8. It can be viewed as a milestone event of the year, but it is not inspiring. ARM architecture has been already introduced with a splash, but the implementation will take no less than a year. Don’t take me wrong, I do believe that Windows 8 will be popular and used by the majority of consumers (there is no alternative here anyway) and I am not an exception. It is not a crucial event of the year though. I treat any OS as a driver for gadgets, which must be reliable and do the job. Maybe I am a hardliner, but desktop OS is subsidiary to a computer and I spend more time in separate apps (browser, MS Word) than in the OS itself. It was the original plan anyway.
We have to mention the ARM architecture separately. The bulk of key announcements will be centered around it. The world is mobile, while ARM processors are the most efficient and accessible so far. Subsequently, hybrid devices will emerge similarly to laptops acquiring more powerful solutions for chipset video cards. Work in the office apps to save power and boost operation time. Switch to games and the picture quality goes up. This approach is rather sensible.
Something similar is happening with laptops. Manufacturers are trying to run in front of ARM version of MS Office and the OS itself. For example, Lenovo has a Hybrid model with the second ARM processor to go together with õ86 architecture, which has no sense now. You cannot switch on the go and there are no desktop apps for ARM yet. Netbooks also had a proprietary shell to work with standard apps without loading the OS. This approach may be interesting, but not it is not viable as people usually turn on the PC and use the one OS installed there.
I do not believe in hybrid hardware combining mobility with the desktop power. Different devices are created for various scenarios, which makes hybrids an offshoot of the mainstream technological evolution.
Having mentioned laptops we must remember that 2012 will be the year of MacBook Air clones. They will run on Windows and have an Intel platform inside created for ultra thin solutions. Sadly, MacBook is still above the rest in terms of materials quality and price. The preference for rival products can only be explained by personal ill feelings towards Apple.
Regarding phones CES will not be impressive. Wait for protected Motorola solutions and their 4″ screen Android smartphones. Unfortunately, the company almost completely deserted the European market. Motorola alongside Sony Ericsson and LG failed to capitalize on the advantages of Android. In 2012 Motorola will try and return to the market with protected phones and first of them will be shown in Las Vegas.
The latest tendency I want to highlight is the growth in the number of processor cores. It is not rocket science to tell that if CES 2011 boasted dual core solutions in 2012 they will be replaced by fore cores and eight cores in 2013. It is very predictable.
Technology shows still have some unexpected twists that we may run into new names or surprising products. I have a little bit of hope that CES will give some insight into the world of mobile devices for us to go strong for some time. Unofficial meetings will play their part as well.
Every day you will have a chance to read my articles from CES 2012. Frankly speaking I am not sure how to do about it. There are two options: our standard approach with one article for one company or any experiment with another form. I will start by describing the most impressive events of the day. Latest news from CES and photos will appear on our Twitter account @mobilreview, so tune in! Feel free to comment on all issues raised in Las Vegas.
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Published 10 January 2012
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