The consumer electronics industry will descend on Las Vegas during the second week of the new year for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Among the glitter and gizmos there’ll be a fair amount of promises and predictions for 2007. Perhaps it’s the excitement of the continent’s largest IT show but the forecasts aren’t always on the money and seasoned CES attendees have learned to take them with a pinch of salt.
So how did the class of 2006 do?
Bill Gates’ keynote is a fixture at the start of CES. Last year’s keynote was chock full of talk about the upcoming Windows Vista operating system and recently launched Xbox 360 console. Many of the Xbox 360 promises have been kept with a steady stream of games coming out during the year, but what about Vista?
Gates promised it would be out by the end of 2006 and whether Microsoft achieved that is open to interpretation. It was launched on Nov. 30 but only to customers of Microsoft’s volume licensing plan, which consists of big businesses. Consumers are still waiting for the general release on Jan. 30.
The other big prediction that came out of the speech: much wider availability of Microsoft’s IPTV platform during the year. By the end of 2006 the system was in 11 U.S. markets through AT&T’s U-Verse TV and in trials or commercial service in the U.K. (BT Vision), Switzerland (Bluewin TV), France (T-Online Club Internet) and Germany (T-Online T-Home). Exact subscriber numbers were not available.
Some of the most ambitious product predictions turned out to be about the battling HD DVD and Blu-ray Disc formats. Supporters of both formats laid it on thick at CES about why their chosen disc would beat the competition and generally herald a new age in entertainment. Not only hasn’t that new age arrived yet but neither have some of the players.
Samsung Electronics’ first Blu-ray Disc player was promised in April but didn’t appear until June while Sony Computer Entertainment’s PlayStation 3 was due in Japan and the U.S. in “the spring” but didn’t hit store shelves until November. Sanyo Electric also said it would have an HD DVD player out in the latter half of the year but financial problems at the Japanese company forced those plans to be shelved.
Toshiba took to the CES stage to unveil its first HD DVD player and confidently promised availability in the first quarter. The company made good — just — and launched the player on the last day of March in Japan. It followed in the U.S. during April.
Perhaps such delays are only to be expected. When you’re dealing with cutting-edge technology there’s a fair amount of engineering and design that has to be perfected before launch. Still, why does it always seem to be the coolest toys that are delayed? Sony’s Sony Reader, an electronic book reader, was due in April but eventually came out in October and Toshiba’s all-singing, all-dancing Qosmio laptop was due in March but was delayed for a couple of months.
Looking back at CES 2006, there’s one more thing worth a mention. It wasn’t announced at the show but was still on the lips of everyone at the consumer electronics blow-out. Remember the Google PC? It was supposed to be a low-cost computer running a Google-developed operating system that would be available at Wal-Mart. Reports suggested an unveiling at CES and thus reporters excitedly rushed to Larry Page’s keynote but he never mentioned it and the computer never appeared — and still hasn’t.