Eye-Catching Products in a Hall of Gadgetry
By JENNA WORTHAM, SAM GROBART and JOSHUA BRUSTEIN
Published: January 9, 2011
LAS VEGAS — The throngs at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show, which ended Sunday, jammed this city’s streets, hotels and cellular networks. At times it seemed it might have been easier to stay at home and read about it on the Web. But that might have meant missing out on an unexpected discovery or the buzz of something big. Technology editors and reporters of The New York Times who attended share snippets from their notebooks below. Complete coverage of the show is at nytimes.com/gadgetwise.
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Times Topic: Consumer Electronics Show (CES)
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Several floors above the rows of slot machines in the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, Matias Duarte sat on a gold velvet couch overlooking the Las Vegas Strip, grinning like the Cheshire Cat.
Mr. Duarte, the head designer and interface architect of Android, Google’s mobile operating system, had just helped demonstrate the latest version of the software to an enthusiastic audience.
Just a few years ago, industry experts and analysts doubted that Android’s one-size-fits-all approach to software would be successful with phone makers eager to differentiate their devices from one another. But now, many hardware manufacturers are focusing on creating products that run on Android.
This year at C.E.S., it seemed impossible to turn around without bumping into a smartphone, tablet or kitchen appliance running a version of Android, which Google gives away free.
“It’s the beauty of the open-source model,” said Mr. Duarte. “Anyone and anything can work on it.”
“The success of Android hasn’t been put to a test,” said Gene Munster, an analyst with Piper Jaffray. When popular smartphones like the iPhone migrate to other carriers, he said, “we’ll see how it plays out.”
But Mr. Duarte was undeterred.
“It seemed like a crazy idea when Andy came up with it,” he said, referring to Andy Rubin, the co-founder of Android. “But this C.E.S is proof that Android is a juggernaut, that it works.” JENNA WORTHAM
Hot and Cold
Every once in a while at a trade show, you get to see a magic trick. At the booth of a company called Fulton Innovation, there were two.
Fulton, based in Ada, Mich., specializes in inductive power systems. The most well-known applications of inductive power are pads that can charge smartphones without wires and cooktops that can heat pots and pans, but otherwise remain cool to the touch.
Fulton has taken the inductive concept and run with it. Its booth showcased products with inductive inks in their packaging: when placed on a shelf with an inductive coil, things like cereal boxes and printed labels can light up or flash in patterns.
Fulton also has systems intended for homes. Induction cooktops have been around for years, but Fulton has broken down the components and placed them under the countertop, converting any surface into an invisible inductive cooktop that can heat pots and pans.
The technology can also heat up packages like soup containers, using the inductive ink. In theory (the technology is real, the commercial partners at this point less so), someone could buy a can of Chef Boyardee, slap it down on an inductive countertop and cook Beefaroni on the spot.
The same system can power small appliances. Fulton showed off toasters and blenders retrofitted with inductive-power bases. Place the blender on the surface and it runs as if it were plugged in. The same surface remains otherwise inert and can be treated like any kitchen countertop.
C.E.S. was mostly underwhelming this year (3-D TVs, again; tablets, again; Internet-connected TVs, again), but in a small corner of the Las Vegas Convention Center, there was a little slice of Tomorrowland. SAM GROBART
Two Touch Screens
The tablet is a simple idea: a computer that, from the outside, is little more than a pane of touch-sensitive glass. During a week in which dozens of companies showed variations on this concept, few devices stood out. This was particularly true since many tablets, like the Motorola Xoom, perhaps the one that got the most attention, were not available for full demonstrations.
Acer, a company that makes low-cost personal computers, distinguished itself from the crowd on novelty factor alone. It moved perhaps the furthest away from the basic tablet idea with the Iconia. The device, which will run Windows 7, resembles a laptop, but opens up to reveal two 14-inch touch screens. Acer first announced the tablet-laptop hybrid in November and plans to begin selling it in March for under $1,000.
The Iconia gives users a large amount of screen space, making for easy multitasking. And the two screens mean that a user can look at one while typing on a virtual keyboard on the other. Some people will see this as an advantage compared with tablets, and others will see it as a disadvantage compared with laptops.
There is also a major tradeoff in size. The device is enormous compared with other tablets and weighs more than a notebook.
“This is meant to go to the kitchen and the bedroom. It’s not meant to go East to West Coast,” said Ray Sawall, a senior product manager for Acer.
Despite its quirks, or perhaps because of them, the Iconia won a contest at C.E.S. called Last Gadget Standing, in which audience members cheered for their favorite from a list of 10 finalists. JOSHUA BRUSTEIN