iLounge is the Consumer Electronics Association’s exclusive partner for the iLounge Pavilion—the unified Apple iPod, iPhone, iPad and Mac exhibition area at the International Consumer Electronics Show, now the largest dedicated area at CES. With the 2011 CES less than two days away, we wanted to provide you with an official preview of the big trends in Apple-related hardware and software that will be on display this year inside and outside the Pavilion. We’re going to pass on discussing the myriad iPad clones that will be on display at the show—they’re just not interesting to us—and go straight into what Apple users and potential Apple users are likely to care about in the year to come.
New! Take First Looks at some of the interesting products debuting this year—we’ve gone hands-on with the latest speakers, cases, app-enhanced accessories, and much more, with new previews appearing regularly over the next couple of days!
New x2! Here’s an early look at the setup of booths at the 2011 CES, including some of the large companies inside and outside of the iLounge Pavilion! We’ll be updating this gallery regularly throughout the show, so bookmark it and stay tuned!
Wireless Audio. Expect the 2011 CES to be a watershed event for wireless iPod/iPhone/iPad speakers thanks to Apple’s release of AirPlay and recent iOS 4.x support for proper stereo Bluetooth streaming. Official AirPlay licensees such as Bowers & Wilkins, iHome, and JBL appear to be setting the initial price floor for all-in-one AirPlay speakers at $300, leaving plenty of room for other companies to sell more affordable $150-$200 Bluetooth speakers that offer lower-fidelity audio, reduced broadcasting distance, and/or fewer frills.
Wireless headphones remain a question mark. No AirPlay-ready headphones have yet been announced, and Bluetooth versions continue to be oversized, uncomfortable, and/or overpriced relative to the audio quality offered—with a couple of noteworthy exceptions. Our suspicion is that the year will see a handful of companies push even further than JayBird did last year to reduce the size of Bluetooth earphones, while companies such as Apple explore the feasibility of AirPlay versions for release later this year. Whether any of these options actually is shown at CES is unclear.
Wired Headphones. Aside from fashion tweaks, the most exciting developments in traditional wired headphones for iPod, iPhone, and iPad users are Westone’s debut of Westone 4—a quadruple-driver earphone priced more aggressively than Shure’s triple-driver version—and the increasing number of three-button remote/microphone-equipped headsets from major manufacturers. Bringing the prices of really good earphones down to more reasonable levels will benefit vendors focused on quality, and hopefully help to clear the market of the innumerable junky OEM earphones that are now flooding the market.
Wired Speakers. The biggest announcements we expect in the traditional wired/docking speaker category relate to iPad compatibility for both old and new designs. These speakers have become somewhat stagnant over the past few years, and the iPad’s release has only complicated things by requiring larger docks and in some cases stand and hinge mechanisms.
Gesture-Based Accessories. Monster will debut a very interesting though expensive car accessory that recognizes hand waves to pause, play, and change tracks on a connected device, while another company will be showing a gesture-controlled iPad dock. Don’t expect anything quite on the level of Microsoft’s Kinect, but “touchless” controls are starting to become a reality for Apple’s devices.
App-Enhanced Accessories. Many developers are working on various niche accessories that redefine what the iPod touch, iPhone, and iPad are capable of doing. Whereas many of 2010’s app-aided add-ons were either gimmicky or toys, the new crop in 2011 gets serious: iHealth’s Blood Pressure Monitor is one of several new health-focused accessories, Griffin’s CarTrip is one of two that monitor vehicular on-board computer systems, and companies such as Lingo are debuting next-generation app-based radio tuner and battery cases.
Apps. A handful of interesting consumer electronic connectivity apps are expected to debut at CES, including one that links multiple iPads together to serve as a giant display, and others that link iPads and iPhones into home cable or satellite tuners for program scheduling.
Mac. On the accessory front, next-generation solid-state drives (SSDs) and external batteries for MacBook computers will be shown at CES, both taking different directions than Apple’s official solutions. Some of the first actual cases for the late 2010 MacBook Air laptops will also debut at the show, a point of considerable excitement for those of us using the new Airs. Apple is also launching the Mac App Store on the first day of CES, so most of the Mac software news of note will be happening in the cloud rather than on the show floor.
iPhone 4-Specific Accessories. Battery cases. Solar chargers. Solar charging battery cases. Cases without batteries or solar chargers. We expect to see a whole bunch of these items at CES.
iPad-Specific Accessories. Speakers are the single most interesting thing we’re expecting at CES this year for the iPad, but there are going to be some other options, including new iPad battery cases, more stands, and of course, more cases. The questions of fair pricing and forward compatibility will loom large over all of these accessories given the anticipated replacement of the first-generation iPad with a physically smaller second-generation sequel in the next 2-3 months.
iPod-Specific Accessories and Everything Else. Literally hundreds of new iPod cases are going to be shown by small and large developers alike, with categories including iPod nano wristwatch accessories, iPod touch cases and FaceTime aids, and most likely only a handful of options for the fourth-generation iPod shuffle and long-in-tooth iPod classic. Very few of the new items we’ve seen in these categories are legitimately interesting, but we’re always hoping for surprises—last year saw the debut of art- and photo- customized cases that are dramatically better than ones sold before, and hopefully someone will bring innovation on the same level this year. At least one cool new case from Speck will be shown, but there will be a lot of chaff to sort through in the case department.
We’ll have many more reports direct from CES. Check out iLounge’s brand new 2011 CES Site for all of our coverage, starting tonight.