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Smartphones take center stage at CES

This year's Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas once again present products the world can do without. But the fair is a must for early adopters, gadget freaks and trend scouts.

The organizers of the gadget show in the American desert city believe the name of the Consumer Electronics Show to be so well-known that they only refer to it as CES. Around 3,000 exhibitors are seeking to draw some 150,000 visitors to their stalls. With a record-setting display area of more than 170,000 square meters, this year's CES may be smaller that the CeBIT in Hanover, but it is larger than the Consumer Electronics und Home Appliances fair IFA in Berlin.

Some 20,000 new products were announced ahead of the official opening. However, the industry's big names such as Google, Amazon or Microsoft will be missing and Apple has never made it to the show.

For many years Microsoft was the fair's flagship and usually delivered the opening speech. But "after 15 years of Microsoft and its keynotes, many people have probably become somewhat bored," said Volker Zota, chief editor of the computer magazine c't.

Microsoft is missing

Microsoft was always somewhat out of place at the Consumer Electronic Show, Zota said, and this year it isn't set to announce many new products. But after the recent release of its new operating system Windows 8, tablets and notebooks all over the fair are running Microsoft's new operating system.

the Samsung display at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show EPA/DAN GLUSKOTER

The trend is towards larger screens

The keynote this time will be held by Paul Jacobs, head of the California microchip manufacturer Qualcomm. This chip manufacturer is not as well known as Intel and Microsoft, but its rise reflects the upheaval in the industry: Qualcomm is the leading supplier of chips used in smartphones and tablets. The company is benefiting from the rapid growth of these mobile companions and has become the markets' darling, while companies such as Intel and Microsoft are lagging behind.

Mobile companions

No question: tablet computers and smartphones are once again the stars in Las Vegas. Tablets will be faster and especially cheaper, Zota predicts, because more and more devices are being offered by more and more manufacturers: "The boom continues unabated." And although smartphones are set to be presented only a few weeks later at the Mobile World Congress, the mobile phone trade show in Barcelona, "hardly any manufacturer wants to pass on the opportunity to present at least one or two devices right at the beginning of the year," Zota said.

The trend in smartphones is clearly towards bigger screen sizes, greater than five inches, often with full HD resolution. "The new models also generally have better cameras and usually quad-core processors," Zota said.

Full HD was yesterday

The television industry also wants to boost its sales in Las Vegas. After trying to persuade the world of the benefits of first three-dimensional televisions and then TVs with Internet connection, it's now saying full HD is no longer good enough.

"This is the big topic at the show," Zota said. "4K, or ultra-high-definition brings a resolution of 4000 pixels in width."

A Ford EVOS concept car is displayed at the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show EPA/DAN GLUSKOTER

The new generation of cars has mobile internet and cloud services

While these were presented at last year's IFA, Zota said, "we cannot necessarily assume that this is already something for the average user." First, because most viewers hardly notice the difference between HD and Ultra HD. To really see a difference requires screens that fit better in a dance hall than in a living room. And second, there is not a single TV station in the world that broadcasts programs with the gigantic resolution of 3,840 x 2,160 pixels.

From smart TV to smart cars

But besides the usual suspects, an entirely different industry has made its presence felt at the CES: car manufacturers. According to the trade fair organizers, more car manufacturers than ever will be exhibiting in Las Vegas; big names include Audi, Chrysler, Ford, General Motors, Hyundai, Kia, and Subaru. "Before it was the auto parts suppliers that offered infotainment and similar systems," Zota said. "Now many manufacturers build their own systems."

For example, Volvo wants to equip its cars with the music streaming service Spotify. Volvo, now a subsidiary of the Chinese automobile and motorcycle manufacturer Geely, wants to use a cloud service from Ericsson. Among others, this will make apps, entertainment, information, and data services such as navigation available to the driver.

Announcements from other car manufacturers highlight the trend towards mobile Internet. For example, BMW has recently upgraded its "Connected Drive" communications and navigation system with speech recognition, with which the driver can dictate a short text and can send it as an email or SMS.

And at GM's Chevrolet division, the small cars Spark and Sonic will soon be being fitted with Apple's "Siri" language assistant.

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