For business owners, it's important to know the tech trends, gadget frenzies, and overarching themes from the show in order to plan your tech buying strategies. Here are six findings directly from the showfloor to help you stay in tune.
1. 4G is finally here
From the very first press conference, the main theme from the show emerged: your next smartphone will likely connect to a 4G network. In a private demo with T-Mobile, we tested the new Dell Streak 7 tablet, which connected to a 4G signal at a mouth-watering 6Mbps – faster than many DSL connections. With that speed, video chats with colleagues stayed smooth and it took only 8 minutes to download an entire Hollywood movie. For business use, 4G on your smartphone or tablet means easier Internet back-ups, smooth video chats, and snappier Web viewing.
2. Smartphones: the new notebooks?
The rumors about the death of the notebook still persist. Granted, we still use these 6-pound behemoths for productivity work, but Motorola revealed a new strategy that might just put the notebook on notice. The Astrix 4G smartphone, which will be available first quarter, can be used with a docking station that connects to a desktop monitor and keyboard. The phone uses a custom interface that lets you use Web sites like Google Docs for writing, say, a business plan. There's also a full-size QWERTY keyboard for Astrix. The idea is to use your phone for all of your productivity work, including e-mail, word processing, slideshows, and online accounting, and then dock at the office to keep working.
3. Tablets will be ubiquitous
Apple has sold 7.5 million iPads since its original debut. Yet, instead of just admitting defeat in the tablet market, several companies – including HTC, Motorola, and Samsung – announced new models, some that connect to 4G service. At CES last year, many companies announced or released an e-reader, but it was more of a groundswell uprising against the Amazon Kindle. This year, the industry switched to tablets and it seems as though every other booth had one on display. One interesting model to watch: Illuminus (www.illuminus.com) will release their T9 tablet this quarter that connects to an HDTV over a Wi-Fi signal in just a few steps.
4. 3D goes independent
Big-budget 3D movies like Avatar are great the first few viewings but wear thin eventually. Consumer electronics giants like Sony really want you to buy a 3DTV, even if you already own an HDTV, but the content is slim. The answer: the company announced a consumer camcorder called the 3D HandyCam HDR-TD10, available this April, that shoots video in 3D and costs only about $1500. (The viewfinder displays a simulated 3D image that, in our tests, looked too blurry.) For business users, 3D could provide a way to liven up a sales demonstration.
5. The car industry is serious about electric cars
Another interesting trend from CES is that major automakers like Ford are very serious about electric cars. The company chose the CES convention to announce the new Ford Focus electric. A few weeks ago, the Chevy Volt started rolling out to dealers. What does this means for small business? For some entrepreneurs, it means a new business opportunity – e.g., helping build the infrastructure. For others, it could mean investing in a fleet of electrics for delivery as a way to lower start-up costs for fuel.
6. The economy is starting to rebound
Another important trend from CES: it appears the economy is starting to make a rebound. Attendance was up from last year, hitting about 140,000 attendees over a four day period, according to NewsFactor.com. There was also a renewed optimism – several electronics giants made splashy announcements. Panasonic had one of the biggest booths ever, and there were exhibits in just about every open space. For small business owners, a gadget boon can fuel many other industry segments.