Engadget's CES 2012 Preview

Though the holidays are once again coming to a close, we now find ourselves just a week away from every geek's ultimate holiday -- the 2012 Consumer Electronics Show, arguably the biggest event of the year for the tech world. Thousands of companies gather in the Nevada desert to show off their latest innovations, setting the stage for what will no doubt be another stellar year in electronics. In anticipation of the onslaught we're about to experience, we want to offer up our predictions of what you can expect at the show. There's always a few wondrous surprises that nobody could ever see coming -- part of what makes CES fun -- but aside from those jaw-dropping moments, we have a pretty solid idea of what will take place next week. So join us as we break down CES 2012, one category at a time.

Table of Contents

Last year's CES brought us a flood of devices with dual-core mobile processors and the innovation that was the LapDock (and we all saw how that panned out for Motorola). This year, we'll likely witness the introduction of superphones with quad-core CPUs and other stellar specs like HD displays and 12+ MP cameras. We're looking forward to gazing upon the first handsets with custom ICS skins, and NFC will be littered all over the place. And watch out for Windows Phones this year -- it's quite possible we'll find the platform finally blessed with dual-core and LTE-enabled handsets.

Sony Ericsson will finally show off the long-rumored Xperia Arc HD and it may actually have a bigger brother, complete with a larger Reality display and more horsepower. Motorola is expected to debut the LTE-laden Droid 4 QWERTY slider on Verizon, and we've heard whispers that there may be more additions to the RAZR lineup en route -- we wouldn't be surprised to see a GSM / HSPA+ version show up on AT&T. Nokia should begin its massive US comeback tour (unless you count the Lumia 710 on T-Mobile, that is) with one or two new high-end devices on AT&T and / or Verizon. Also, be on the lookout for the LG Revolution 2 -- an Optimus LTE / Nitro variant -- to pop up on Big Red's 4G lineup, as well as an AT&T-blessed Samsung Galaxy Note. Pantech will come out of hiding by offering up an LTE smartphone and tablet on AT&T, and we're sincerely crossing our fingers that we'll get a sneak peak at some of Sprint's upcoming LTE devices as well as the ASUS PadFone with Tegra 3, though we're not expecting it to show up until MWC in February. If all of this happens, we'll definitely be happy campers in Vegas this year. -Brad Molen

If your end-of-year holiday plans didn't involve giving someone the gift of tablet computing, you'll probably have a chance to make up for the oversight after CES. You see, though now's as good a time as any to take the tab plunge (the ASUS Eee Pad Transformer Prime, anyone?), a boatload of higher-specced, lower-end and smaller-sized slates are literally just around the bend. We'll also finally see availability and pricing officially announced for a couple of well-known, but still unreleased tablets that've passed through Team Engadget's curious hands. Think you can hold out for January's dizzying array of industry revelations? We promise the innovation will be well worth the wait.

If 10-inches is just too much kit to grip one-handed on-the-go, look for the coming market to be flush with the more manageable 7- and 8-inch form factors that manufacturers have recently begun to adopt. Quad-core tabs will also be on the rise, as an increasing number of OEMs embrace the Tegra 3 SoC. And there'll be no escaping Google's new crown jewel, Ice Cream Sandwich -- that OS will be slathered on a wide array of upcoming slates shipping across a variety of price points, including those from major players and as-yet-unestablished brands. In fact, 2012 could very well prove to be the year ICS takes the category crown, abolishing the barrier to entry with affordability and ubiquity, all while finally unifying Android's scattered ecosystem. Oh, you'll still see the top companies introducing tablets with Honeycomb pre-installed, but those instances should be few and, really, it's all just an effort to rush products out to market -- not a clueless industry misstep. So stay tuned: CES and its Pandora's Box of revelations is only a week away. -Joseph Volpe

Desktops tend to come and go at CES without so much as a whimper, and honestly, we've seen nothing to show that this year's show will be any different. We'd love to be proven wrong, of course, but unless some far-flung company trots out some crazy new design, it'll be yet another round of speed-bumped CPUs, GPUs and bragging rights over who has the most USB 3.0 ports.

In all seriousness, we're expecting a decline of new desktops at CES. Conversely, there ought to be a continued surge in the release of new laptops. Desktops are becoming more and more of a niche product, but for gamers who need the best, we're counting on at least one or two workstations with RAIDed PCIe SSDs, four GPUs linked together and a pair of overclocked Core i7s. All for a cool million dollars, give or take a few thousand. -Darren Murph

This might be a good time to remind everyone that all those wispy laptops we've been calling Ultrabooks are mere placeholders, filling a need for pinch-thin PCs until the real thing comes along. Not that that's stopping laptop makers. Even though it could be months before we see "full-fledged" models packing Intel's next-gen Ivy Bridge chips, a raft of ultraportables are about to make their debut at CES. Think of it as this year's netbook (or e-reader or Android tablet): all of the major brands that have yet to release one are likely to do so in Vegas, as are scads of smaller players you might not have heard of. All we're saying is, if you've been looking for an impossibly thin-and-fast laptop for less than $1,000, well, you might want to put your comparison shopping on hold until after the show wraps.

And don't be surprised if you see companies hewing to a very loose definition of "Ultrabook." In addition to the usual suspects (13-inch screens, solid-state drives, sub-$1,000 price), we're expecting a crop of larger machines with 14- and 15-inch screens and... optical drives. The idea, we're told, is to make these $1,000-plus machines more palatable to mainstream consumers -- folks who still like to burn discs once in a while, or who won't be convinced they're getting a good deal unless there's a DVD burner. What we're going to see, then, is a second tier of so-called Ultrabooks that reek of Intel's marketing hype, but are actually nothing more than good old-fashioned thin-and-lights (often very attractive thin-and-lights, but thin-and-lights nonetheless). Don't say we didn't warn you. -Dana Wollman

At CES 2009, it was e-book readers as far as the eyes could see -- last year, however, the space was largely eschewed for the impending tablet explosion. This year's show will likely be no different in that regard. The industry is currently dominated by a handful of companies that are on their own release schedules and will likely have little to no presence in that space at the show.

Amazon, which recently announced its latest slate of Kindle devices, will not be in attendance. Kobo's presence will likely be minimal, if the company is there at all. Barnes & Noble has announced its presence at the show, but this will likely be limited to the Pepcom Digital Experience show. There's some possibility that Sony will announce a reader amongst its perpetual deluge of CES products, but given the release of a new flagship product in the space over the summer, there's not likely to be a lot of fanfare around the reader line this year. Most likely we'll be see some much smaller companies dominating the space this year, with a focus on budget readers and perhaps color screen devices. -Brian Heater

What's your New Year's resolution? How does 20 megapixels sound? Or perhaps 20.12? Digital imaging is without question one of the toughest categories for marketing departments -- how do you convince consumers to replace a camera that already has a double-digit megapixel rating, a long zoom lens, dozens of scene modes and a compact, pocketable design? Well, you add even more features, of course. Social media, map integration and beefier scene mode selections will likely dominate point-and-shoot lineups in 2012, along with the standard (and often unnecessary) crawl to outdo last year's resolutions, perhaps with the promise of shaving a millimeter off the waist line, to boot. If a slim profile isn't what you're after, we're also overdue for some DSLR cams, so you'll want to keep an eye on that space as well.

1080p will also dominate the space at this year's CES, and despite a boost in the video capabilities of our beloved still snappers, the camcorder lives on -- for one more year, at the very least. Ironically, improved still image quality will be a theme for motion cams in 2012, along with some fancy new lens tech aimed at improving stabilization. Camcorders are still flying off the shelves, we're told, and are clearly still producing enough revenue for manufacturers to justify the expense of developing new lines. We won't see many new standard-def models this year, though they won't be discontinued just yet -- SD cams remain popular enough for retailers to keep them on the shelves, thanks to lower pricing and other incentives. We'll need to wait another week before camera makers reveal exactly what's in store for 2012, but with PMA now folded into everyone's favorite CE show, there will definitely be plenty of cams on-hand to capture those desert antics this year. -Zach Honig

The video game world's big shows have already come and gone, but that doesn't mean the industry is going to be completely silent at CES. Although we don't expect to see much from console gaming's big three (after all, they already brought their A-game to E3 and the Tokyo Game Show in 2011), Vegas is a great place to spot innovative startups, awesome accessories and glorious crapgadgets. PC gaming and peripherals will be CES 2012's gaming bread and butter, but we wouldn't rule out a few console-centric surprises either. Surely we'll get another look at Razer's Blade, if not the vaporous Switchblade. We also hope to see at least a few new Tegra 3 slates give the Transformer Prime a run for its (and your) money, and we wouldn't be surprised to see a slew of three-dee laptops trying to push the edge of semi-portable PC gaming, possibly with something fresh from AMD, Nvidia or Intel in their pockets. Nyko, Razer, Mad Catz, Cooler Master, Penguin United and other accessory outfits will likely be on site as well, flaunting new PC cases, battery packs, controllers, headsets and other peripheral delights. -Sean Buckley

Each year CES has more and more cars on the floor -- and we're not just talking about the ones with ridiculously large chrome wheels and trunks full of woofers. Last year Ford unveiled the Focus Electric at CES and, while we're not sure we'll be getting a wholly new car this year, the company will have the Evos concept, a cloud-connected car with gull-wing doors and one of those fancy concept car interiors that will never make it to production.

Audi and NVIDIA will be making an announcement together -- not a surprise since the German marque had a big presence last year, talking up its Tegra-powered dashboards. This year we're expecting to see more and better graphics in the center stack, but it's surely more advanced smartphone integration that will make the most and biggest waves. Ford, Cadillac, Chrysler, Mercedes-Benz, Audi, Tesla and plenty of others will be there showing off what will be a slew of fancy new ways to get music and media from your smartphone to your car stereo. Your commute will be more engaging in 2012 than ever before. -Tim Stevens

Speakers, headphones and audio-wares get announced year-round, but CES is generally where you'll find sound and the latest technologies converge. One of the biggest areas to gain steam since 2011's show has been wireless -- with the clear popularity of cloud-based streaming services like Spotify and Google Music, it's now become easier than ever to get very good sound quality by accessing your music from anywhere there's a connection. While not directly related to plugging into your speakers per se, cutting the cord with wireless audio devices has also increased this year. As predicted, AirPlay has seemed to take off for iOS, DLNA on Android is still kicking with loads of Android-focused wireless docks recently hitting the scene from companies like Phillips and Bluetooth-enabled speakers have certainly proven their worth.

So, what does it all mean for CES 2012? Well, now that wireless audio has its feet firmly planted, you can surely expect it as more of a focus and not a subset of entire product lineups. Furthermore, it's a likely a safe bet that Bluetooth 4.0 will make its way into smaller devices that wouldn't have been as likely to support wireless audio in the past due to power constraints. Of course, we'll also expect to see the latest and greatest in noise-cancelling headphones, gaming headsets and portable media players, not to mention a bevy of new gear that's been out on across the globe finally making their official US debuts. Audiophiles who are also gadget freaks should have a lot to love this year. -Joe Pollicino

This year's CES finds many giants of the HDTV industry in a precarious position, as some of the newer TV features highlighted during the past few years -- namely connected TVs and 3D -- have failed to translate into major sales drivers. As always however, there's the hope of new technology that will reignite buyer interest in the segment, and leading the way this year will likely be large OLED displays from the likes of LG and Samsung. Both have been working on the technology for several years but this time around we expect to see production-ready super-thin, energy efficient screens in sizes of 55-inches, although the questions of when they will come to market and at what cost have yet to be answered. Another direction we expect to see some move in is higher resolutions. While Sony and JVC have dipped a toe into 4K projection, Toshiba is already first out of the gate with a 4K TV on sale overseas featuring autostereoscopic (no glasses) 3D that we saw in prototype form last year and figure will come to the US shortly. Will other manufacturers immediately follow? It seems likely, although at around $10k for a 55-inch screen, it could be a while before these are available at your local big box retail store.

As far as current tech, we hardly expect connected TVs or 3D to just fade away -- both will probably be pitched as bigger and better than ever, and for many of the same reasons. Manufacturers with active shutter 3DTVs have banded together (finally) on a standard for glasses. That, combined with additional content from ESPN, an end to pack in exclusivity for Avatar's 3D Blu-ray, movies like Transformers and Hugo coming to the home and the 2012 London Olympics may be enough to push it from frequent punchline to solidly-developing niche. We should find out shortly whether Eric Schmidt's prediction of a huge 2012 for Google TV is accurate, although rumors from Samsung could push most of the big Google TV news out until after the show in Las Vegas is over. This also leaves in question what happens to many manufacturers' own connected TV platforms, and the potential of crossplatform apps. Comcast and Time Warner both showed off cable TV without the box thanks to networked displays last year but it was nowhere to be seen in the real world -- we'll keep an eye out for another demo. At this point we'll be surprised if more companies don't go the Vizio route and slather their product lineups big and small with extra features, although the question of battles at the cheap end is as interesting as the question of who will win in high end display quality. Sharp and Panasonic have been pushing the bar there and neither will stop in 2012, although we expect the battleground to shift to extremely large (70-inch+) display sizes. Of course, we haven't even touched on competing network streamer add-on boxes like Roku and Boxee, the continued growth of phones and tablets as second screen options or voice and gesture control technology -- it's going to be a very busy week. -Richard Lawler

It'll be what we're not seeing that looks likely to be the major trend for household tech -- namely wires. We're expecting to see broader (and closer to retail) takes on inductive charging. We're talking more convenient ways to wirelessly top up your phone, possibly integration into your car and home -- all in a way that's far more subtle than that black industrial mat of yesteryear. We'd expect to see it seeping into many more devices beyond smartphones. Leave those remotes on your coffee table as it charges the batteries for you. Or, how about inductive pans perhaps? What seemed conceptual last year could get much nearer to reality in 2012. Similarly, with the staggering uptake of smartphones, expect plenty of Bluetooth and other wireless accessories that tie your phone to your home -- like baby monitors that can be viewed and listened to wherever you have reception -- and the introduction of even more smart appliances integrated around your home.

Add into the mix even more unusual household appliances from the likes of Samsung and LG, and whether it's a vacuum that automatically trails the user, hovers for effortless cleaning, doubles as an air conditioner or all of the above -- heck, we're willing to be thrilled by a cleaning appliance if it's got something new to show us. We'll be getting into CES's every nook and cranny to find all the dirt on our future (hopefully robot-managed) home. Let's just hope there's a clever way of cleaning that dirt up afterwards. -Mat Smith