The last Reality Absorption Field discussed how CES is relevant to Apple -- mostly through major standards milestones -- even though the company doesn't attend the annual confabulation. But CES can also be seen as a mirror that is held up to the world of device makers, even those that don't attend CES.
In that vein, there were a number of significant new computing form factors shown in the desert. And while their having any impact on the computing world outside of Apple is far from a sure bet, it's still worth considering their relevance to the company.
NVIDIA Project Shield gaming handheld
Perhaps the most significant surprise at CES, Project Shield represents the first end-user gaming hardware from chip-maker and Mac graphics supplier (but ARM architecture competitor) NVIDIA. It's an Xbox-like controller with a flip-up lid that includes a 5" "retina-quality" display. Like Kickstarter projects OUYA and GameStick, it runs Android and can connec to a big-screen TV, but Project Shield will be the first Android device to include a Tegra 4, the company's state of the art system-on-a-chip offering. If all that weren't enough, the handheld can reach across a home network to access and remotely play games on specially-equipped PCs running Valve's Steam service.
Any possible connection between Apple and the TV seems to draw a lot of attention these days especially as Apple has enabled Bluetooth on Apple TV, but it's difficult to see an iOS version of something like Project Shield even without the far-out remote PC gaming features. Apple has built a strong case for buttonless games in iOS, and the iPhone or iPod touch serves the role of a controller in which the games resided and could be sent up to TV via AirPlay.
Lenovo Horizon Table PC
Remember Microsoft Surface? Not the iPad competitor Microsoft rolled out last year but the big honking table computer it rolled out around the same time as the iPhone? Well, it's still around -- sort of -- as the Samsung SUR40. And it's still pretty expensive. The Lenovo Horizon PC seeks to bring the Surface experience to a broader experience by embedding it within a 27" all-in-one PC that lays flat for table games. Alas, since its a Windows PC, Lenovo has had to create its own app store filled with apps that are optimized for such a form factor.
Now, if you scoff at the idea of a 13" Android tablet like the kind Toshiba tried, it's kind of crazy to consider a 27" iPad. And yet, the Horizon takes the kind of casual gaming people enjoy on the iPad and turns it into an engaging multiplayer experience by having people sit around it. Best of all, flip open the stand, and it turns into an all-in-one PC much like the iMac. This is a tough one to see Apple doing for a host of reasons, but it is an interesting extension of the iPad concept from a single user model to a multiple user model.
The Pebble watch, which in part soared to record Kickstarter funding heights based on its compatibility with iOS, was well-known before CES, but the developers took advantage of the trade show to announce that the product would finally be shipping and it has. Like other entrants in the smartwatch space, such as the Cookoo and MetaWatch Strata, the Pebble gleans connected information and from your smartphone and offers basic controls for tasks such as playing music.
The chance of Apple coming out with a smartwatch are still probably pretty slim, but relatively high compared to a gaming controller or table computer. While Apple changed course from the wrist-friendly direction in which it was taking the iPod nano over the course of two generations of that product, that might have just been clearing the deck for what could be a bona fide wrist companion.
Such a device might even be capable of running true widgets that could be accessible via the iPhone, iPad or even Mac, imbuing new life into the Dashboard feature. We know that Apple remains focused on mobility, and the smartwatch space could certainly use the kind of design panache, focus on long battery life, and thinness for which the company is known.