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Big talk at Las Vegas tech show, but little innovation

The technology world has gathered in Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show trade show but industry giants unveiled few revolutionary products this year.


special correspondent to CES trade show in Las Vegas

Technology manufacturers tried to jolt consumers from their current spending slumber with dazzling new gadgets at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES) in Las Vegas this week.

Gathered at the world’s largest trade show, tech giants showed off better connected televisions, new phones, and the latest generation of compact laptops.

But despite lavish and well-groomed presentations, leading software and hardware makers reserved few real breakthroughs for the event.

Smart TVs behind the curve

Wayne Park, president and CEO of LG Electronics USA, told CES that while 2011 "was challenging for economies around the world”, his company had increased revenues in North America.

Park was on stage not just to boast about market share but to present LG’s new line of 3D and Smart TVs, which in 2012 will represent half of all the displays the South Korean manufacturer will produce.

LG’s new TVs will come with a built-in camera that recognises human movements and transforms the body into a de facto remote control or video game controller. It is exactly the technology seen with Kinect, the motion sensing device by Microsoft for its Xbox video game console.

LG’s said the TVs would also include voice recognition, drawing further comparisons to Kinect, which introduced voice input capabilities just a few months ago.

Like Sony in years past, Samsung wants to have a finger in every tech pie. Smart TVs, however, are at the heart of the Korean company’s strategy. Besides high definition images and 3D, Samsung TVs will feature increased connectivity to other electronics, like tablets and phones, but also refrigerators and washing machines.

Samsung said it was also offering a choice of TV content to match that of the Apple’s hugely popular App Store, with television series, movies, video games, fitness programmes and more to match all interests and persuasions.

In 2012 the firm apparently was counting on ubiquity rather than innovation to bring in profits.

Ultrabooks to stay on the shelf

In a 45-minute press conference that harked back to those by the late Apple CEO Steve Jobs, Intel president Mooly Eden showed off Ultrabooks at CES. Coined by Intel, these minicomputers follow on the heels of the ultrathin Macbook Air notebook computer and the iPad tablet.

While Eden has taken more than one cue from Jobs, the Ultrabooks are unlikely to find the same level of success as Apple’s star products.

Intel did not have a specific product to highlight, rather it showcased the technology that allows a new, wide range of lightweight computers to function. The US tech firm’s Ivy Bridge, a next generation laptop processor, will be powering most Ultrabooks.

In short, Intel can spend lots of time and money promoting Ultrabooks, but it must rely on the willingness of other manufacturers to make products to match its ambitions.

Furthermore, as John Herrman writes in the magazine Popular Mechanics, consumers will probably not rush out to buy a novelty computer – at premium price – that can’t read CDs or DVDs and has relatively little memory.

Microsoft goes out with a squeak

Throughout his presentation, Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer sat on a chair. It was as if the software giant’s top boss needed to rest after headlining CES for the past three years. In fact, the 17-year love story between Microsoft and CES ends this year. Microsoft said last December that after 2012, it would launch new products with its own event and on its own schedule.

The only novelty Microsoft brought along for its last CES tradeshow as a new line of Windows Phones – smart phones that work with Microsoft’s own operating system Windows Phone 7.5, also known as Mango. Ballmer unveiled the Nokia 900 and Lumia HTC Titan 2, phones that are not even all-Microsoft.

Otherwise, Microsoft placed emphasis on its new desktop operating system Windows 8, which will be available this fall. But once more, Microsoft’s CES team only repeated what the public already knew.

Windows 8 will feature a completely revised and updated interface, called Metro, and will be fully touch-based, whether a desktop or a tablet.

The gaming world impatiently awaits Microsoft’s next Xbox, but no word was heard about it at CES. Perhaps Ballmer hopes to turn heads with the new version of the console at the E3 video game show in Los Angeles in June. In any case, the innovation game was not on at Las Vegas.


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