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How computers are about to get better at CES 2013

Updated: Jan 8, 2013 10:45 AM EST
CES 2013 should show us what the next generation of computers will look like. (Image courtesy of Digital Trends) CES 2013 should show us what the next generation of computers will look like. (Image courtesy of Digital Trends)
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  • Best new tech from CES 2013

    Best new tech from CES 2013

    After six days scouring Las Vegas for the best of best in technology at CES 2013, here are the gadgets people can't seem to stop talking about.More >>
    After six days scouring Las Vegas for the best of best in technology at CES 2013, here are the gadgets people can't seem to stop talking about.More >>


By Matt Smith
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It's a new year, which means it's time for the Consumer Electronics Show. For better or worse, North America's largest electronics show usually sets the trends that will be followed throughout the rest of the year. So what should you be keeping an eye on in terms of computing at CES 2013?

The march of Ultrabooks towards mainstream

Intel's Ultrabook platform hasn't met the company's lofty projections, but that doesn't mean it's going away. At its core, an Ultrabook is just a laptop with a slim profile and a solid-state drive: two features most consumers like. New laptops will fall in the Ultrabook category as part of their evolution.

We expect to see a buffet of affordable mainstream Ultrabooks at CES 2013. It's likely that a fair number of the Ultrabooks announced at CES will not be the 13-inch models we've seen over the last year. Instead, we expect to see the 14-inch and 15-inch alternatives that have started appearing in the last two quarters of 2012. Many of them will have optional touchscreens, and we also expect to see wider availability of discrete graphics.

However, the release of products shown at CES could be delayed because Intel is launching a new processor architecture mid-year. It's likely that some of the designs teased at the show won't be available until after the new processors are shipped.

Convertible-palooza

A number of convertible laptops launched alongside Windows 8 was only the tip of the iceberg. Microsoft will continue to heavily push the touch interface, and that means encouraging hardware partners to build compatible products.

There's likely to be a lot of competing visions of the convertible at CES 2013. We expect to see some unique hinge designs along with a lot of standard convertible and dockable products. More importantly, we hope to see a few things that we could never have expected. Windows 8 provides hardware manufacturers with a unique opportunity to surprise us.

We don't expect any convertible laptop to emerge as a clear winner. The different ideas have to walk a fine line between weight and usability, and consumer preference varies from person to person. A perfect solution is unlikely to emerge this year.

ARMing your computer

At least a few of the convertibles that will be shown at CES 2013 won't be powered by Intel processors. Instead, they will be powered by ARM processors and will run Windows RT. They'll be smaller than their Intel-powered counterparts and should retail for several hundred less.

We're not sure how many systems like this we'll see at the show, however, and their numbers will be a strong indicator of the operating system's future. Microsoft needs major OEMs like Acer, ASUS, Dell, HP and Lenovo to get on board with unique, high-quality devices. Lackluster Windows RT products would be a serious disappointment and could kill the OS in its infancy.

ARM headlines might come from other sources, as well. Nvidia is still working on Project Denver, an ARM processor meant to compete with Intel in both laptops and desktops. And don't forget Chrome OS. Any of the major computing OEMs could jump in with an inexpensive ARM-powered Chromebook.

Beyond touch

Now that touch input has arrived for every computing device consumers regularly use, a new question rises: what's next?

Some hints are already available. Intel spoke about voice recognition during a keynote at CES 2012 and there are strong rumors that the company will reveal more along that line at CES 2013. The company might also show research in other directions like face recognition and tracking. Intel would love for motion-tracking technology to catch on because it requires significant processing power to operate smoothly.

Microsoft is another big name in alternative interface research. The company's massive R&D department is looking into a wide range of options including motion and eye tracking. Technology like this could be used to implement hands-free controls, or the company could release a product that can track a user's movement in a room (Kinect can already track movement, but only along a 2D plane in front of the camera).

And that's not all. There are many smaller companies with booths at CES 2013. Names like InvenSense, SoftKinetic, and LeapMotion will be in attendance and all offer their own unique take on a hands-free future.

Even more clouds

Citing the cloud as a possible trend at CES 2013 seems so … 2011. Cloud services have already made waves, yet there's also a lot of untapped potential. The pool of companies offering surfaces in this area has grown so large that CES is reaching out to them with a website and a special exhibit on the show floor.

Microsoft is once again a player to watch. The company spends the majority of its R&D budget on cloud services for both the consumer and enterprise market. And where is that money going? We don't know. The company has already released some modest cloud functionality, like integrated sync for Office 2013, but that doesn't account for the billions of dollars the company spends in cloud research.

Other announcements could come from almost anywhere. Every major company in the computing space is researching the potential of cloud services (though some are putting in more effort than others) and there are countless smaller companies looking to expand. It's a pressure cooker of competition that could serve up a few surprises.

Conclusion

Will these trends pan out, or will new ones leap forward to hog the spotlight? We'll find out in a few days. Digital Trends will have full coverage live from the CES show floor, so check DigitalTrends.com for the latest updates.

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