CES beyond tablets: Connected TV, cars will be big news

In addition to dozens of new tablets, connected TVs and cars will be big technologies on display at CES.

Many pundits have already declared 2011 the year of the tablet. With dozens of new tablets from nearly as many vendors being shown this week at CES, it’s almost impossible to argue with that assessment. This week will see the unveiling of new Android tablets (including previews of Honeycomb – Google’s forthcoming tablet-optimized version of Android), a new crop of Windows 7 tablets (though whether Windows 7 is appropriate for a tablet is still up for debate), and HP’s webOS tablets. We’re also likely to see some more demos of RIM’s PlayBook and we might even get a sneak peek at some MeeGo tablets from Nokia.

It’s easy to say that tablets are likely to steal the show. That said, CES has a lot of companies exhibiting new products that aren’t tablets. In particular, there are two technology categories that may not get all the attention, but that will play an increasing role in our daily lives over the course of 2011 and beyond: connected TVs and connected cars.

Connected TVs aren’t new. Devices that connect our televisions to our home networks and computers have been around for years. TiVo, the Apple TV, Roku’s line of Internet streaming devices, and game consoles like Xbox Live have all been on the market for a while. However, the second half of 2010 saw the introduction of a wide range of additional solutions. Google TV, the Boxee Box, LG’s Netcast line of TVs and Blu-ray players, Western Digital’s WD TV Live Plus, and Apple’s second generation Apple TV all emerged as Cisco’s Umi that add video calling to your TV. This mix of technology will continue the existing trend of the Internet becoming a part of our daily experience in ever broader ways.

Connected cars are also not new. Many vehicles offer some form offer built-in media and navigation systems (Microsoft Sync on Ford vehicles) or navigation and remote monitoring capabilities (like GM’s OnStar). Even more cars and car stereos offer Bluetooth integration with smartphones. A few cars even offer 3G Internet access and can create their own mobile Wi-Fi networks.

The connected car trend is definitely going to continue and a number of car companies will be exhibiting new and enhanced options. OnStar is expected to add Internet-connected and streaming media features. Nissan will be exhibiting a feature called Carwings similar to OnStar that can use crowdsourcing of active vehicles to enhance traffic delay and routing functions. In addition to smartphone integration and vehicle monitoring, BMW is adding a range of Internet and social networking features to its Mini Connected offerings.

Among the overall theme for new connected car features are entertainment (both local and Internet-based), additional driver information and assistance programs, fuel efficiency tools (expect that to be a big focus), maintenance and monitoring aids, and enhanced communication features. We may even see more social network integration beyond the Mini line (OnStar began testing the waters with Facebook integration this fall).

Of course, there will be plenty of other products and technologies on display. Next to tablets, however, I expect connected TVs and cars to be the two big stories. It seems that overall, the connected lifestyle will be the story of both CES 2011 and 2011 in general.

Remember to check back here from Thursday through Sunday for my updates (with video) from the show floor at CES. And if there’s any technology you’d like to see me cover, let me know in the comments.

Ryan Faas writes about personal technology for ITworld. Learn more about Faas' published works and training and consulting services at www.ryanfaas.com. Follow him on Twitter @ryanfaas.

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