2013 is shaping up to be a strange year for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the annual tech fête that invades Las Vegas for one grueling week every January. In 2011, tablets were kings of the desert, as manufacturers scrambled to get viable iPad competitors on the scene after Apple went and dreamed up a whole new category of device. Last year wasn't quite as flashy - previews of Windows 8 trickled out, and we all pretended that ultrabooks were the hot new thing for the better part of a week.
In 2013, it's looking like a free-for-all. It's anyone's guess what new devices will capture the hearts and minds of CES attendees.
To find out, ReadWrite will be right there on the show floor all week with our finger on the pulse. And while we don't know yet what devices will capture the attention of the more than 100,000 attendees and worldwide press, we can already tell a few things that won't be grabbing the headlines in 2013:
Following the launch of the original iPad, companies were desperate to get a proper rival in the game - and at CES 2011, it showed. Nobody had quite figured it out yet, but suddenly there were literally 80 tablets floating around, most of them running Android. But by 2012, the tablet frenzy had slowed to a crawl, with Ultrabooks taking the lion's share of the spotlight. With Amazon and Google driving small tablet prices to the absolute rock bottom, don't expect other companies to waste much time on tablets this year.
Microsoft announced that 2012 would be its last year at CES - for a while, at least. The company traditionally delivered a big CES keynote early in the week, but Steve Ballmer's appearance on stage in 2012 was the company's last - bizarre - hurrah. Gary Shapiro, president of the Consumers Electronics Association (CEA), the group that puts on the show, claims that the lapse is just a pause in the shared trajectory of Microsoft and CES, a relationship that dates back into Bill Gates's tenure at Microsoft's helm. We'll see. For now, the company has pulled its booth too, so Microsoft won't have a presence on the show floor either.
3. The Hottest New Smartphones
Smartphone makers are increasingly keeping their mobile secrets hidden at CES. With the Mobile World Congress show just around the corner, HTC, Motorola and the rest generally launch some new mid-level devices in Vegas, but don't reveal the most earth-shattering stuff until they get to Barcelona.
4. TVs Anyone Would Ever Actually Buy
CES is always jam-packed with TVs, but they're getting better - and vaguely affordable - at a snail's pace. Companies will continue jockeying for title of the biggest, more pixel-dense displays around, but the impact on consumers in 2013 will be negligible. Ultra HDTV is miles from affordable (who has $25,000 to blow on a TV set?), consumers still don't really care about 3D and awful proprietary software continues to hamstring most of the ballyhooed set-top devices designed to take over your living room.
5. Apple (Duh)
If you're at all familiar with CES, Apple's absence is a no-brainer. Content to do things on its own terms, the company that's defined the cutting edge of consumer electronics routinely opts out of the biggest CE event of the year. (Heck, Apple doesn't even go to Macworld/iWorld any more!) The Las Vegas convention halls will be generously slathered with iPhone and iPad accessories, but CES just isn't the Cupertino company's style these days. Apple loves to casually announce news that just so happens to coincide with CES, but it certainly doesn't bother to visit the desert nowadays. It doesn't need to.
Don't call us cynical, though. We actually are looking forward to some CES innovations. It's just that we expect to dig up the really cool stuff in unlikely places, from smart homes and car tech to things we haven't thought of yet.
You never know what to expect when geeks invade Vegas, so stay tuned for plenty of highlights next week.