In Which We Reveal The Top CES 2012 Trends Without Breaking Embargoes

CES 2012 is going to be a crapshoot of predictable products. How do we know? Meetings, lots and lots of pre-show meetings. Like previous shows, Apple will not be present in person but still has a major presence. Consumer electronic companies are seemingly trying to build product lines and feature sets that compete directly with current and future Apple products. It’s as if these companies are prematurely releasing items just to head off Apple. The iPad took them by surprise and they’re not going to let that happen again — even if that means announcing and releasing half-baked products.

So, what can we expect to see at CES this year? What are we going to cover live at the show? Read on.

MacBook Air Clones

First up, every computer company will debut several ultrabook models. These slim notebooks will drop into both business and consumer product lines. Most computer companies’ ultrabooks fit within Intel’s definition of the product as an ultra thin notebook void of optical drives and built around a mobile Intel chipset. However, the term “ultra” looks to be a major buzz word next year as it’s used in other product names as well just without the word “book” following it.

Larger screened ultrabooks are also on tap. Look for 14-inch and larger models. Just like it we predicted, many of these models feature prices lower than current models and in some cases, dramatically lower. 2012 will be the year of the ultrabook, for better or worse.

So-called Smart HDTVs

Google chairman Eric Schmidt previously stated that by the summer of 2012, “the majority of television you see will have Google TV embedded in it.” At the time the Schmidt’s comment was certainly laughable given the sorry state of Google TV adoption. But that’s set to change with CES 2012 where his statement will be somewhat validated.

From what we’ve seen, several major manufacturers will debut Android powered HDTVs that feature little to no Google TV 2.0 design elements. We’re not sure how much Google TV underpins these smart TVs, but the majority of what we’ve seen has been labeled as Android TV, not Google TV.

The companies debuting smart TVs at CES are seemingly determined to get the jump on Apple this time around. If Apple is in fact releasing a smart HDTV product in 2012, these companies will be ready with their own models built around Android. Ironically, since there are several such TVs coming from different manufacturers, the smart TV market might collapse prematurely under the weight of half-baked models all trying to outdo an Apple HDTV that doesn’t even exist yet.

Android Tabs And More

Even with the Kindle Fire currently getting all the attention, the Asus Eee Transformer line is the Android fanboy favorite. The original Transformer tablet was cheaper than others, featured great specs and, most importantly, a keyboard dock that turned that tablet into an Android netbook of sorts. Now, a year later, several other manufacturers will debut their own take on the dockable product. They’re all about the same: slim casing, quad-core, ICS. The keyboard docks add additional I/O ports and an additional battery.

Predictably, these tablets and the others we’ve seen, mostly run on quad-core platforms with the Nvidia Tegra 3 as the clear favorite. Ice Cream Sandwich is of course present, and most of the tabs are set to ship within the early months of 2012 at $399 to $499 price points.

Voice Control Is The Unwanted Future

A smaller but still notable trend for the 2012 CES involves Siri clones inside new product types. Using off the shelf systems, companies have developed “me too” voice controls. From what we’ve seen, none best Apple’s system in any way but the sheer numbers state that, for better or worse, voice controls will be a major trend next year. And since many perform worse that Apple’s system, consumers will no doubt instantly discredit the usefulness of voice controls in general.

Several smart TV concepts have optional voice controls. Using a mic embedded in a remote, viewers are supposedly able to control certain functions with just their voice. We haven’t seen any demos but the company’s limited descriptions lends us to believe that the feature set is very limited and is probably more of a novelty than a useful feature.

But don’t fret, friends. CES 2012 will be huge. We didn’t ruin all the fun. We’re still going to be there, reporting with a constant live video stream. It will be the biggest collection of exciting gadgets and tantalizing products assembled to date. Items like voice controls and smart TVs will likely fade to obscurity shortly afterwards, just as 3DTVs did last year. The real star of CES is the odd, unusual, and paradigm-busting item that defies the popular trends. That’s why we love CES.

Tune in Sunday, January 8th (around 4:00 PST) as we kick off our live video coverage of the 2012 International CES. Like previous years, we’re going to livestream all of our tomfoolery as we roam the halls of the Las Vegas Convention Center. There will be giveaways, tweetups and, of course, a drinking game. It will be great fun for all.