Each week Ross Rubin contributes Switched On, a column about consumer technology.

Compared to CES 2011, which featured an explosion of tablets and high-powered smartphones poised to jump on emerging 4G networks, this year's edition of Gear and Gloating in Las Vegas was a more muted affair when it came to mobile devices. Sure, Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile trotted out a few devices and there were even a few standouts, such as the Transformer Primesque Lenovo IdeaTab S2 with its its docking keyboard as well as the heavily promoted Galaxy Note, coming soon the U.S. after launching in Europe. To promote that device, Samsung employed caricature artists to make drawings of booth attendees (and even put them on T-shirts), which cleverly highlighted the "S Pen" that docks into the device, and used the portmanteau "phablet" to describe its pocket-packing screen, which less cleverly highlighted that it's a big phone.


But the big winner of CES was in many ways the home network. Below the radar of the stunning saturation and contrast of the OLED TVs debuted at the show, Lenovo and Samsung were also active on the TV front, with the former entering the market with an Android 4.0-based set and the latter introducing the intriguing idea; a set that includes an upgradeable module housing the processor.

This could overcome concerns that the connected services would become obsolete long before the rest of the set would and leaves even fewer scraps for add-on set-top boxes such as those from Roku, Apple and Boxee. But there was at least one connected set-top box category that showed signs of renewed life at CES -- the DVR -- with new products for satellite TV customers, from Dish multi-room enthusiasts from Ceton, and even cord-cutters from startup Simple.TV. These will be discussed more in depth in a future Switched On.


There were even increasing signs that those laggards of embedded connectivity -- digital cameras and camcorders -- are finally mounting a more credible campaign toward integrated Wi-Fi with introductions of the Kodak M750 and Sony Bloggie Live. And for the rest, the SD Card Association has standardized a card with embedded Wi-Fi so we may be seeing more competition for the Eye-Fi card that has bridged the camera connectivity gap until now.

Beyond the home, cellular is, of course, creeping into more than cell phones and tablets.

Speaking of Wi-Fi, it is poised for a major upgrade itself as it will now span the 5 GHz and 60 GHz bands. The more evolutionary upgrade -- 802.11ac -- stands to double today's throughput while Wi-Fi at 60 GHz, known as 802.11ad, will open the door to multi-gigabit data transfers at shorter range and applications such as wireless docking stations and sending multiple high-definition videos around a living room. And those who prefer to move their bits around their homes with wires will soon have two faster options from which to choose, HomePlug AV 2, an evolution of the current dominant powerline standard, and HomeGrid, the name for the G.hn standard.

Beyond the home, cellular is, of course, creeping into more than cell phones and tablets. Aside from AT&T trotting out more details of the cellular-enabled PS Vita and Seagate showing off an LTE version of its GoFlex Satellite, one of the more active companies here was Voxx International, better known to most by its former name Audiovox, which with highlighted three Sprint-powered products at the show -- Car Connection for remotely monitoring the whereabouts of vehicles, Care Connection for doing the same with kids and other dependents, and Tagg, a collar extension for keeping tabs on pets. Much like tablets today, though, these devices generally require their own cellular plans that often start at about $15 per month.

Some discounts can kick in. For example, you can pick up Tagg service for a second pet for less. But the piling on demonstrates an increasing challenge for carriers. For connectivity on the highway to reach the same ubiquity it is reaching in the home, data access plans will need to better accommodate the needs of the multiple device owner.


Ross Rubin (@rossrubin) is executive director and principal analyst of the NPD Connected Intelligence service at The NPD Group. Views expressed in Switched On are his own.