Apple Again Casts its Shadow on CES

As another Consumer Electronics Show gets underway in Las Vegas (TMO’s Bryan Chaffin and Jeff Gamet are on location and will be filing reports), Apple’s lack of participation once again weighs heavily on the proceedings; the company hasn’t exhibited at the show since 1994. San Francisco Chronicle columnist James Temple says that ultrabooks will be a major factor this year.

He writes: “What’s an ultrabook? An Intel-based PC that strives to match the weight, thinness and power of the MacBook Air. Apple, incidentally, released its first Air in January 2008 and achieved the breakthrough design everyone’s now mimicking - with solid state flash storage and improved battery life - in October 2010.”

Mr. Temple adds: “So, to put it another way, the big news is that PC makers have caught up to Apple, 15 months late - assuming, of course, the devices are any good … Depending on whom you ask, companies are going to unveil anywhere from 30 to 70 ultrabooks at this year’s CES. That seems eerily reminiscent of last year’s event, when companies showcased dozens of slates in a lemming-like rush to replicate the success of Apple’s iPad.”

Before the iPad was even announced in January 2010, tablets were the talk of CES that year, with speculation running high that the rumored device would be called iSlate. Companies were already lining up to take on Apple, and Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer spent a large portion of his 2010 CES keynote highlighting competitive devices.

This year, as Mr. Temple notes, the rumored Apple TV set weighs heavily on CES. He writes: “Even the various ultra-high resolution and 3-D TVs on display this year will have to compete with Apple in the minds of consumers, despite the fact the company hasn’t introduced a TV yet. Just the rumblings that it will roll out some category game-changer this year or next is likely to hold off many consumers from upgrading the biggest screen in their home.”

He said that the 2012 CES has more than 1.8 million square feet of exhibit space booked, up 9 percent from last year and making it the second biggest CES ever. Nearly 150,000 are expected to be in attendance, and this year CES has a new area for startups called Eureka Park, along with an 88,000-square-foot area for Apple accessories called the iLounge.

But will there be a Next Big Thing at this year’s CES? Mr. Temple doesn’t think so, and he quoted Gartner analyst Michael Gartenberg as saying: “It’s going to be more evolutionary this year than revolutionary.”