Winners and Losers of CES 2010

Las Vegas has reverted back to its usual activities. Gone are the multitude of laptop-wielding bloggers scurrying across the convention center floors from one booth to another. The sounds of slot machines and roulette wheels have reclaimed the soundscape over the click-clack of MacBook Pro keyboards and the powerup beeps of Flip Mino HD camcorders. Vegas is full of winners and losers and here’s our list for the best and worst of CES 2010.

Winner: Color screens for eReaders
Back on December 1st we gave our eReader predictions for the upcoming 2010. Among them was that new color display technologies would be the industry standard by the end of this year. Don’t believe us? Here’s our quote: “Once color screen tech gets a foothold in the market there will be no need for [Grayscale eReaders] anymore. They will be like coupling a DVR with the ability to record VHS tapes.” In addition to the Pixel Qi, Mirasol and LPD displays we’ve included in this eventual transition, a new technology came into the fold at CES — Liquavista’s color “LCD 2.0″ screen.

Loser: Price on the Plastic Logic’s QUE ProReader
We’ve been anticipating a high price tag on the Plastic Logic QUE ProReader even since they announced their target market as “business professionals.” Any time a company focuses on a corporate market it usually means a steep increase in price (which also means a steep decrease in taxes when companies buy it). Even suspecting all that we were shocked when the price was dropped — $649 for a 4GB version and $799 for an 8GB version. Wowza. That’s Scrooge McDuck money there. Plastic Logic has been developing the QUE for a long time and we’re sure it will be a great product. Still, it feels like all that R&D was included in the unjustifiably high price.

Winner: Reasonably priced gadgets
There were three very affordable products that stood out from the massive gout of tech at CES — the Sony Dash, Freescale docking tablet and Cydle M7 MID tablet. Aside from all being innovative tablet products, they also shared a $199 price. As cool as the Sony Dash’s mix of streaming music, free apps, social networking, video player and other general craziness is, it was the asking price that perked up people’s ears. Same with Freescale’s convertible tablet/smartbook which managed to break the plane for the elusive sub-$200 tablet PC and the Cydle M7 tablet which managed to be MID, extra monitor and digital TV all-in-one. Two Benjamins are something that nearly everyone can afford and it’s great to imagine that in a few months we’ll be able to pick these products up.

Loser: Steve Ballmer’s “Slate” tablet PCs
Don’t get us wrong. We don’t subscribe to the popular internet dementia that is Microsoft hate. Microsoft is a big company with a lot of wrong turns in the past, but that doesn’t effect what their current products offer (this coming from someone who just had to ship off their RRoD Xbox 360 sans complimentary “coffin”). However when Steve Ballmer takes the stage things typically go to $#!%. That was the case with the spectacularly boring CES keynote address. Microsoft had leaked that they would be presenting some fabulous tablets during the address. Instead what we got was the supremely delayed Archos 9 (winner of our “botched launch of 2009″), a passing mention at a mysterious Pegatron tablet and a brief focus on a HP slate tablet. No mention of the Courier tablet which impressed everyone earlier this year. The event felt rushed, the “slate” term arbitrary and the entire fiasco like a weak preemptive strike against the expected Apple Tablet announcement happening at the end of the month.

Winner: Notion Ink and Pixel Qi
Congratulations Pixel Qi — they love you, they really love you! It’s taken a while for the media to catch up to what Pixel Qi has to offer (we’ve been enamored with them since October), but now that they have taken notice it’s all they can talk about. And with Notion Ink’s Adam being the first tablet to offer the switchable reflective/emmitive screen they are winners by proxy.

Loser: Everything E-Ink
E-Ink screens were responsible for nearly all the eye rolling during CES. You may call us a biased since we predicted that E-Ink would be “a thing of the past by the end of next year.” But then you’d have to call Gizmodo and Engadget biased as well. We understand everyone wanting a piece of the Kindle-dominated pie, but at this point no traditional E-Ink eReader is going to be able to compete against Amazon, B&N and Sony (yes, even you Samsung). It’s time for 2nd gen. Wake up and smell the reflective color. C’mon people, you don’t need market analysts to tell you this stuff!

Winner: All the Tegra 2 (Whooosh!) tablets
NVIDIA’s Tegra 2 chip is just what tablets need to improve performance and break out this year. Tegra’s second generation chipset emphasizes speed (hence all the sub-conscience whoooshing), the ability to play HD video and a energy-saving efficiency that would make Al Gore smile (if his face hasn’t been frozen by all this “global warming” of late). Some of the most interesting tablets of CES had the Tegra 2 as its brain like the Notion Ink Adam, Compal tablet and MSI tablet.

Loser: The Dell Mini 5
Remember that one girl in high school that you had a crush on and she acted like she liked you too but nothing ever happened? What a tease. Well if the Dell Mini 5 were suddenly animated by a fairy godmother it would be that girl. When you finally get some distance you realize what a waste of time crushing on a tease really was. Well Dell, you’re there. You’re well past there. Just spill the details on your Streak or Mini 5 or Tease-a-tron 5000 already. Enough if enough.

Not everyone can be lumped into a winner or loser category however. Sometimes you go to Vegas and win back what you lost or lose what you’ve won. Here are a few products that simply broke even.

Breaking Even: The Skiff Reader
The Skiff has a lot of things we like and a few things we don’t. First, the large format and resolution is impressive as is the bendable quality that reminds you of reading actual print. Having Sprint as a partner and 3G is definitely the way to go for readers on the move. However it’s still an E-Ink reader and we can’t help but envision what other eReaders or tablets may be available at the end of the year. There’s also the question of price — which will most likely be subsidized by a contract with Sprint — which has yet to be answered.

Breaking Even: The Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid
Lenovo has such a brilliant idea here. It goes far beyond the visual of snapping off the screen of a notebook and using it as a tablet. Lenovo has made the tablet and the complete unit share different characteristics. It’s a Clark Kent tablet — with an ARM processor, Linux OS and limited flash memory and RAM — and a Superman notebook — with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, Windows 7 OS, Intel GMA graphics, 128GB SSD and 4GB of RAM. It’s all so impressive until you get to the $999 price.

Well then. We showed you ours, why don’t you show us yours? Let us know your personal winners and losers of CES 2010. Think we’re way off base with our opinions or want to praise us for our keen inside? Feel free to speak up in the comments.

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5 Responses to “Winners and Losers of CES 2010”

  1. To me, the Lenovo IdeaPad U1 Hybrid is a winner in spite of the price, combining the best of two worlds in a creative way.

    What is your impression of the different eReader Color screen technologies btw? Would be interesting with a head to head comparison of these.

    • Hey Lars,

      The really neat thing about the emerging screen technologies is that each is distinctly different. I’ll put it on my docket to do a comparison post that talks about the Pixel Qi, Mirasol, LPD and Liquavista that will hopefully answer some questions.

  2. I’d like you to be more specific when breaking bad on e-ink. Is it the limited capability of electrophoresis and tje grayscale paradigm? If so, I agree completely. It won’t last forever. But electronic reading of book-length texts has been possible for over 30 years. Yet nobody read that way. The portability of palmtop devices rocketed the numbers of humans reading books in e from zero into the ‘statistically insignificant’. It was e-ink that changed the game; and it did it through its physical properties and function. not by dazzling us with some big marketing campaign, but by giving us a display that we can stare at for 16 hours straight if so choose — with an eye-blink rate comparable to that experienced while reading a printed book, and without disrupting our natural sleep cycle. I am not married to e-ink technology, and have no problem with change. But no non-reflective, multitasking display technology will be an acceptable replacement as applied to long-form reading. Reading is different than anything else humans do. I’m psyched to see that researchers and developers are interested in the problem. But gearhead and technology-chaser wannabe that I am, I won’t get excited about the next big reader technology unless I can be confident that its developers understand the needs and physiology of serious readers. For now, less truly is more.

    • Hello Thorn. You’re right on with your assessment of E-Ink providing a display that readers can view for long periods of time without taxing the eyes. The game changer now is that reflective screens aren’t just limited to E-Ink anymore — they can be color too. That’s why the new screen technologies (like Mirasol — which is basically E-Ink but with color) are so important. It’s really the digital equivalent of reading a newspaper or a magazine. Both are natural and easy to read, it’s just the one is black and off-white while the other is color. If consumers have the choice to buy an eReader where everything is equal except that one only displays in grayscale and has screen blinks every time you change the page and the other offers a reflective color screen with faster refresh and no blinks, we certainly think the consumer will buy the latter.

      Tech gadgets are a study of divergence and convergence. A new form of technology is created, then niche elements for that tech are discovered and products are made to fill them. Soon you have lots of products that have diverged to cover all aspects of that tech. Then someone figures out how to combine multiple elements into one product and pretty soon everyone is making gadgets that converge all the niches into one. Rinse, repeat. That’s what we see happening with eReaders right now. Amazon identified a niche tech, developed a product and sold it to a happy market. Now a few companies have figured out how to not just make an eReader, but make a tablet that combines eBook reading, internet browsing, media playback, etc. The final piece to the puzzle was the proper display tech and now we have that.

      Ultimately it will always be in the eye of the beholder, but we see these new displays as offering all the benefits of E-Ink with none of limitations.