CES 2012 Preview: Fast, Connected, and Super-Skinny Devices

Ultra book
Ultra book

I want it. And I want it now.

Beginning Tuesday, anorexic HDTVs and super-skinny laptops called "ultrabooks" are expected to strut down the runway at the Consumer Electronics Show, as well as technologies designed to deliver super-fast home networking speeds and TVs that smartly connect to multiple devices simultaneously.

As with previous CES events, consumers will be sorely disappointed if they're expecting all of the products revealed to be ready for purchase by the end of the year.

Nonetheless, CES provides a great window-shopping experience. Here are four things expected to wow the crowd.

1. Smarter Smart TVs

"We'll see a lot more smart TVs," predicts Ross Rubin, executive director of connected intelligence for research firm NPD Group. Those smarter TVs, Rubin says, will be able to connect to tablets or smartphones and provide some pretty compelling bells and whistles, such as multiscreen apps.

Imagine two people using their tablets in a car racing game, where each can get a view of their own car on their tablet, but both are sharing a TV to view the race track as they speed along, Rubin explains.

But as noted in an Engadget CES 2012 preview, TV makers face a challenge in turning connected TVs or 3-D into big money-making features.

Manufacturers, meanwhile, are also jumping on the Google TV bandwagon ahead of CES, with plans to formally introduce their offerings at the annual gadget showcase. LG Electronics, for example, announced Friday that it plans to introduce its first Google TV at CES. That would put LG in the running with other TV makers like Sony and Samsung Electronics. For Google (GOOG), 2012 may indeed become a big year for its TV push, as Chairman Eric Schmidt has previously predicted.

2. Lightning-Fast WiFi

Consumers should expect a sneak peek at 802.11ac chips at CES, Rubin says. These chips, otherwise known as the next-generation 5G WiFi chips, are expected to greatly speed up WiFi networking speeds.

Issuing announcements ahead of CES, Broadcom (BRCM) on Thursday introduced its first 802.11ac chips, which are projected to run three times faster than existing WiFi technology and handle such tasks as HD streaming movies. Meanwhile, networking hardware maker TRENDnet on Friday introduced a next-generation dual-band wireless AC router and dual-band wireless AC media bridge that relies on 802.11ac technology. Both companies plan to tout their AC technologies at CES.

3. Super-Thin Slim Designs

Ultrabooks are expected to storm CES, similar to the tablet tsunami that swept CES last year. These slender, super-model-thin laptops are taking aim at Apple's MacBook Air, which earlier became even slimmer and got a shot of power to boot.

A number of HDTVs are also expected to debut with a super-slim profile, notes Rubin. Apparently, the long-standing push for slimmer products has moved another notch forward.

"I don't know if I would call these anorexic, but at some point there could be diminishing returns," Rubin says. "For TVs, they are getting lighter and thinner and requiring less infrastructure for mounting them on the wall. One goal is to hang a TV on a wall like a picture frame."


4. Ford's Electric Car Upgrades

Not all CES announcements roll into consumer lives right away. Ford (F) unveiled its first all-electric car -- the Focus Electric -- at CES last year, but according to a Ford spokesman, it won't be available in dealerships until the first half of this year.

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The Focus Electric has trickled out to some of Ford's fleet customers, but not average consumers. The first markets slated to receive the Focus Electric include Atlanta; Austin, Texas; Houston; Boston; Chicago; Denver; Detroit; Los Angeles; San Francisco; San Diego; New York; Orlando, Fla.; Phoenix; Tucson, Ariz.; Portland, Ore.; Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Richmond, Va.; Seattle; and Washington, D.C.

Still, Ford plans to make a return trip to CES this year, where it will unveil five new apps compatible with its SYNC AppLink. SYNC is its voice-controlled, in-car connectivity system for smartphone apps.

Maybe Ford will have an easier time this go-around making its CES announcement something consumers can drive off with.

Motley Fool contributor Dawn Kawamoto does not own any shares in the companies listed. The Motley Fool owns shares of Ford and Google. Motley Fool newsletter services have recommended buying shares of Google and Ford, as well as creating a synthetic long position in Ford.

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