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CES: Our Take on the World’s Largest Gadget Show

Senior consumer reporter and “Deal of Day” columnist Kelli B. Grant travels to Las Vegas to find the best, the worst, and the most hyped gadgets at this year’s Consumer Electronics Show. Join her as she roams the exhibit floor for three days, with dispatches here and on Twitter @kellibgrant.

Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images

In the coming few days, more than 150,000 people are expected to descend on Las Vegas for the annual Consumer Electronics Show with the same mission they have every year: find the coolest new gadgets and gizmos.

This year, there’s already a buzz on the floor that several cellphone makers will introduce phones that are embedded with credit-card chips, according to analysts at CES. This means that more tech-savvy consumers could pay for goods with their phone a la Google Wallet. “There’s been a lot of talk about mobile payments,” says Todd Day, an analyst covering mobile for Frost & Sullivan, “and this may be the year that NFC [near field communication] and mobile payments really take off.” Other analysts expect to see more devices syncing with the cloud and offering voice-activated commands similar to Apple’s Siri. There’s also a slew of new so-called ultrabooks — thin and light laptops promising faster processing and longer battery life.

Experts say many of the new trends this year benefit technophobes as well as early adopters. More choice in everything from 3DTVs to tablets helps push prices down. This is especially true for items such as GPS units, cameras and camcorders, which are now typically integrated directly into smartphones and car dashboards. Shawn DuBravac, chief economist for the Consumer Electronics Association, which sponsors the convention, told reporters yesterday that there’s also an increased focus among manufacturers to make new devices that are easier and more intuitive for users.

Indeed, CES is a significant driver in how technology advances and, ultimately, what consumers buy, experts say. Historically, it’s been the venue where many then-ground-breaking technologies have been introduced, including the VCR and, more recently, HDTV. “It sets the tone for the year,” Day says. Consumers watching the show may start planning out when they’ll invest in that new TV, or figure out how to switch carriers to grab a hot handset. And when several manufacturers introduce devices with a new technology at the show, it creates a momentum among consumers and prompts competitors to follow suit.

But CES isn’t the end-all, be-all of innovation. The show focuses largely on hardware, and many of the more interesting developments of late have been on the software side, says Michael Pachter, an industry analyst with Wedbush Securities. “It’s services like Netflix and Hulu that make the devices more interesting,” he says. Apple famously does not attend — and Microsoft has said this will be its last year in attendance because the show’s timing does not coincide with its product release schedule. Plus, there isn’t always a big, exciting new headline technology to showcase. “But,” he says, “I always go in ready to be surprised.”


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