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What to expect at CES 2011

Tablets, dual-core processors, and tablets with dual-core processors

What to expect at CES 2011
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The 2011 Consumer Electronics Show will be kicking off in Las Vegas from Thursday 6th January.

Over three days the great and good of all things shiny and gadgety will hawk their wares to trade representatives and the world’s press.

This year is likely to see mobile technology attracting even more attention than usual – a sure sign that this second decade of the 21st century will see more and more of our everyday computing and communicating activities step out of the office and into our pockets.

So what can we expect from the mobile industry at CES 2011? Far more than we can possibly hope to guess, but here are a few safe bets.

Tablets… lots and lots of tablets

2011 will be the year of the tablet, as its defining electronics show will reveal. After Apple’s iPad cleared the way in 2010, expect a deluge of slate devices to flood the market.

The biggest player will undoubtedly be Google’s Android platform, with its forthcoming Honeycomb update set to be heavily tablet-focused. We’ve seen the likes of the Galaxy Tab take the fight to the iPad in 2010, but expect the key devices for 2011 to be dual-core beasts capable of outperforming your average netbook for general tasks like web browsing, multimedia output, and – of course – gaming performance.

Of particular interest will be Motorola’s expected offering, which Google Android supremo Andy Rubin has been spotted using over the past few months. Expect rivals HTC, Toshiba, Samsung, and LG to make strong Android tablet showings too.

It’s not all about Android, though. RIM is expected to let us get a closer look at its own dual-core tablet, the PlayBook, at CES. With a brand new custom QNX operating system, front and rear cameras, and a slinky seven-inch display, the BlackBerry manufacturer’s tablet device is one to watch.

Then there’s the not inconsiderable shadow of Microsoft, which looks like it's going to grant its blessing to the tablet format at this year’s CES.

The company is set to aim a little higher with its own offerings (Dell and Samsung should be on manufacturing duty), overlooking the excellent (though limited by design) Windows Phone 7 OS in favour of a full-on Windows experience.

Expect to see tablets running on a custom version of Windows 7 and – more excitingly – maybe even a sneak peak at Windows 8 running on some kind of slate device.

HP will also be launching its WebOS-powered tablets, but we’ll touch on that a little later.

Dual-core Android smartphones

As already mentioned, mobile devices will be going dual-core in 2011 – and it’s not just those newfangled tablets that will benefit from the boost in processing power. Expect high-end phones to boast dual-core architecture too, with Android leading the charge.

Indeed, it came as something of a surprise when Google’s Nexus S turned out to be a single-core device. Multi-core processors are the logical solution to increasingly power-hungry apps, multi-tasking operating systems, and the increased strain on batteries these entail.

We’ve already caught a peek at a couple of dual-core Android devices. Both the LG Star and Motorola Olympus should be on show at CES, and you shouldn’t have to wait too long to see them in the shops either.

The LG Star in particular has been wowing the press with its sleek looks and staggering performance (around twice the performance of current high-end devices, going by some benchmark tests).

First Windows Phone 7 update and more new devices

Windows Phone 7 has made a steady start since its October release. While sales haven’t exactly been stratospheric, the OS itself is extremely accomplished, barring the usual first-release glitches and oversights.

Some of those should be addressed at CES, where the first major update is expected to be revealed. Chief among the additions is expected to be cut-and-paste, with a second, larger update set to appear a few months down the line.

Also impressive has been the general standard of Windows Phone 7 hardware. LG, HTC, Dell, and Samsung have got in on the act so far, and there’s not a bad handset among them.

With this in mind (along with Microsoft’s apparent focus on tablets for this year’s show) we’re not expecting any breath-taking new WP7 handset releases at CES 2011. Given Microsoft’s tight specification requirements, any new handsets are unlikely to shatter the mould set by the likes of the HTC HD 7 and the Samsung Omnia 7.

Still, it’ll be interesting to see any signs of a second wave of WP7 device, and whether they can stand up to the dual-core Android onslaught coming their way.

What can Palm do with a pocket full of HP cash?

It’s easy to forget in among all these flashy Android, iPhone, and Windows handsets backed by billion-dollar companies, but the Palm Pre was a fine and innovative handset when it was released in 2009. The trouble was, Palm lacked the financial clout to really push the device into contention.

Since then, HP has snapped the company up. That’s the biggest computer manufacturer in the world buying out the creator of one of the best mobile operating systems of recent years.

So, what can Palm do with proper backing? One thing will be to launch a competitive tablet device, combing HP’s computer distribution and hardware know-how with Palm’s aforementioned WebOS operating system. We’ll see the fruits of these efforts at CES 2011.

We should also see HP’s first WebOS phones, which represents – strangely enough – a far more risky endeavour. It’s a brave move taking on the might of Apple, Google, RIM, and Microsoft with its own OS while PC rivals Acer and Dell go with safer pre-existing options.

Whatever it chooses to show at CES 2011, we’ll be keeping our beady eyes on HP.