iPod @ CES 2006 Part I: Diamonds and Coal

iLounge CES 2006 Coverage Index:
 » Part I – Diamonds and Coal: Commentary and Expectations
 » Part II – Early Announcements from Alpine, Belkin, Shure, and more!
 » Part III – From the Show Floor
 » Part IV – Follow the iPod & Showstoppers
 » Part V – Show Floor Report Day 2
 » Part VI – Hitch, and the Rest of the Show

Tomorrow morning, the 2006 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES) floor will open in Las Vegas, Nevada, but most of the major iPod-related news from the event is this point already known or embargoed until tomorrow. Without going into the specifics, which we’ll save for our next report, we’ll say that iPod fans should expect a limited number of truly important announcements, and a lot of unimpressive stuff. Even more of the latter than last year.

Last year’s CES held only a few surprising announcements: video game accessory maker Nyko debuted Movie Player, a video screen add-on for black-and-white iPods, as well as a collection of less groundbreaking but generally smart accessories. (Interestingly, though it was previewed again to the press in mid-2005, Movie Player disappeared entirely from the radar when Apple released the fifth-generation iPod in October.) Several aftermarket car accessory manufacturers also debuted impressive high-end iPod integration kits, most notably Clarion’s VRX755VD.

But as it turned out, that and the iPod community’s other big debuts were either repeated at, or saved for the immediately following Macworld Expo in San Francisco. Perennial CES hold-out Apple, for instance, unveiled the low-priced iPod shuffle and Mac mini, arguably its most populist consumer electronics offerings ever. And leading third-party developers launched innovative add-ons like XtremeMac’s AirPlay FM transmitter, JBL’s On Stage and On Tour speaker systems, and numerous innovative cases.

This year, CES has a much larger contingent of iPod accessory makers and hopefuls. More than 50 companies will be showing iPod-related accessories –  a surprisingly high number given Apple’s absence – which would lead one to assume that some significant announcements will be forthcoming.

However, a significant number of these companies fall into the “hopefuls” category: small Chinese, Taiwanese, and American companies with me-too speakers, car chargers, and cases, some of them made to fit now-discontinued iPod models. These companies will be at CES as much to convince larger players to improve and then sell their technologies as to actually show new products intended for near-term sale.

There’s an obvious reason for this: CES is a huge show, far bigger than the first one I attended a dozen years ago, and there are so many companies now exhibiting here that their ‘booths’ or exhibitions take place in hotel suites, meeting rooms, or private dinners rather than in one of the many Las Vegas Convention Center facilities here. Starting tonight, announcements from Sony, Microsoft, and Google are anticipated to dominate local mindshare, rather than anything iPod-related. Of course, that will change next week at Macworld Expo.