The ringing in of the New Year is now behind us, which means only one thing-CES is just around the corner.
The International Consumer Electronics Show -- as it officially is known -- runs from Jan. 6 - 9 in Las Vegas and sets the stage for the year ahead in terms of new gadgets, technologies, and services. Some may shape the future of the music and entertainment business; some may not. CES is just as well known for critically acclaimed product launches that never go anywhere. But those products that succeed in rising above the noise of news and announcements at the show win themselves significant momentum for the year ahead.
Based on meeting requests, press releases, and e-mails sent our way in the weeks preceding CES this year, here's our best bets on what trends will be emerging from the show.
Billboard has bullishly predicted the automobile as the next frontier of the digital music revolution for some time, but the reality of that expectation has come slowly. While this won't be the year in-car digital audio sees the mythical "hockey stick" spike, we can expect some significant steps forward based on the lineup of speakers and presenters at CES.
Car manufacturers like Ford and Audi are both giving keynotes, with "infotainment" services teed up as the prevailing topic. Toyota separately is booking meetings to showcase new in-vehicle apps. Ford is an early leader with vehicle-based digital music services through its SYNC feature from Microsoft. And Toyota has dabbled in the space with the iheartradio app from Clear Channel.
Also raising the flag are car-audio companies like Pioneer, Oxygen Audio and Visteon, who plan to showcase new digital music integrations with their products as well. And at least one digital music service provider will be making an announcement about in-car availability during the event.
Given that studies continually show that most people listen to music in their cars than any other location, these could prove important announcements. Stay tuned.
The iPad is both the market pioneer and market leader in the tablet space. But it's no longer alone. While Apple as usual will not be present at CES (Apple prefers to showcase its products and news at the Worldwide Developers Conference and at their own media extravaganzas), the specter of the iPad will be ever present with multiple companies expected to show off their competing devices.
Chief among them is Microsoft, with CEO Steve Ballmer delivering the pre-show keynote on Wednesday evening. Rumors are rampant that he will unveil Microsoft's answer to the iPad then. Others include HP's PalmPad and RIM's Blackberry Playbook, and other models from the likes of Toshiba, Dell, Acer, Lenovo and Motorola.
Amid all this are continued rumors of a followup to the iPad. Apple hasn't confirmed anything yet, of course, but a new iPad with better speakers and a front-facing video camera for Face Time video calls could take the wind out of many of these sails.
CES wasn't traditionally a show for mobile announcements. But as smartphones continue to rise above their formerly niche status to ingrain themselves into the broader computing and consumer electronic space, that's starting to change. Expect Verizon to announce a broad lineup of smartphones capable of so-called "4G speeds" during CEO Ivan Seidenberg's Thursday keynote. But don't expect any iPhone announcement, as Apple will likely want to command that news on its own stage.
Smartphone manufacturers meanwhile will use the event to tout their own new devices, including LG, Motorola, HTC and others.
Digital TV, Biz Markie & Lady Gaga
Other than that, there will be more of the same from the TV market (with an emphasis on Internet-connected services and 3D screens), new laptops and monitors, digital cameras, and additional gadget upgrades. And as for artists, other than those playing the parties (Biz Markie at the MOG soiree anyone?) a few will be involved in hyping actual products. The biggest name is Lady Gaga, with Polaroid to unveil the fruits of their "Grey Label" project. What that exactly will be is as-yet unclear, just that it's a "next-generation instant experience" of some sort, according to the website. The House of Marley will unveil a Bob Marley-themed iPod docking station. And Ludacris will be hawking his new line of SOUL headphones.