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CES 2013 Preview: Fewer Electronics, More Cars

Major new computing technology is rarely announced at CES anymore, but car makers are embracing the show.
January 3, 2013

The annual Consumer Electronics Show, known as CES, begins in Las Vegas next week. As usual, it promises to be an orgy of crowded conference centers and frenzied PR activity combined with some interesting new technology announcements. MIT Technology Review will be posting news from Vegas next week, but we can also make some predictions now about we’re likely to see.

My guess is that next week will yield many new TVs and laptops but none of the biggest new tech releases of 2013. This is largely because some of the largest players in computing and mobile have largely withdrawn from the show.

Microsoft walked away from the headline keynote of CES in 2012, after 15 years of anchoring the show (see “Three Gems Hidden in Microsoft’s Boring Keynote”). Apple hasn’t had a presence on the show floor for years, and Amazon and Google have never had much of one. Part of the reason is that these influential companies want more control. Microsoft, Amazon, Apple, and Google are all large enough to stage their own events. At the same time, gadget and computer releases have crept up the news bulletins to become mainstream headlines. (It’s worth noting, however, that senior figures from all those companies still attend CES, to take the opportunity to meet face to face with others from the industry.)

One company bucking this trend is Samsung, the world’s largest mobile-phone manufacturer, which will have a major presence at CES. Last year, the company used the show to launch its Galaxy Note “phablet” (see “Review: Galaxy Note”).

Although some have predicted that CES could soon disappear altogether, plenty of technology companies still need the show, and it’s not just the small companies pushing curiosities such as window-cleaning robots or a computer mouse in the shape of a car (see “The Other Side of CES”).

Car companies have been increasing their presence at CES for several years as they seek to integrate more computing into their vehicles to better tempt a new generation of consumers (see “At Gadget Show, Mercedes Announces Plans to Pursue Generation Y”). This year, Lexus has taken one of the few slots on the press preview day, promising updates on Toyota’s research on autonomous cars. Ford and Audi, meanwhile, are also holding press events, and I wouldn’t be surprised for an automaker to be giving next year’s headline keynote.

There should also be some interesting hints of the future in Las Vegas next week. One of the most interesting things about attending CES is taking a chance to roam the exhibition floor to get an impression of what novel ideas are being made possible by smaller companies that typically sell or license their technology to larger ones. Last year I found a crop of practical-looking wearable displays (see “A Preview of Tomorrow’s Wearable Computers”)—technology that is likely to be adopted by companies trying to compete with Google Glass in coming years (see “You Will Want Google Goggles”). I’m expecting more wearable computing technology this year, as well as other ideas that hint at what’s coming next.