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Intel moves ahead in Smart TVs, Chrome laptops at CES

Ten years ago, Intel, Microsoft and Sony dominated the digital market, but they don’t anymore

By PETER WHITE

Published: 27 January, 2011

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Ten years ago, Intel, Microsoft and Sony dominated the digital market, but they don’t anymore. At CES this year Microsoft and Sony were notable only for their failure to raise even an eyelid in tablets and smart TVs. However, Intel showed liveliness in its booth with an array of Atom processors for smart TVs, laptops/netbooks and tablets.

Microsoft’s CES booth and CEO Steve Ballmer’s keynote heralded the company’s accomplishments with the widely-acclaimed Windows 7 and the hot-selling Kinect motion sensor for Xbox 360. A lengthy demonstration of a phone with WP7 was impressive but did not create a “must have” feeling. Sony was visible more for its 3D TVs and Blu-ray players than anything else. Showing how far it has fallen behind in digital media is its Qriocity online video and music service, which is available only on a few high-end Sony TV sets.

At the front of Intel’s booth were two laptops with the new Google Chrome OS. One was unnamed, probably a prototype from Google. Boot up times took about 8-10 seconds, which includes connecting the browser to the Internet. Intel said battery usage is about 8 hours and resuming after sleep is instantaneous.

The thing to know about Chrome OS is a) the browser is the OS and the OS is the browser and b) all apps and all data are on the Internet, the cloud. There is no local storage except what’s needed for caching. When we reviewed Chrome last month it looked like it was aimed at the corporates who want a) low-cost, trouble-free devices for their road warriors and telecommuters and b) want to keep apps and data on the IT department’s servers. Last month Google said it expects to have an offline version of Google Docs available early in 2011.

Google’s Chrome product manager, who was coincidentally visiting the Intel booth at the same time, was quick to say that consumers will be Chrome prospects too because they are rapidly moving to the cloud for data storage and apps. That’s shown by the instant and surprising popularity of tablets.

Chrome can also run on devices with ARM-designed processors, but both Chrome PCs in Intel’s booth had the company’s Atom-based processors. They would, wouldn’t they?

Not wanting to be lumped in with the notoriously underperforming netbooks, the Google executive was quick and emphatic in saying they were laptops, not netbooks. Of course Chrome OS can run on the same hardware as netbooks or even less considering they cannot have a hard disk. There’s no reason that it couldn’t be on desktops too, especially in places like businesses, schools and at medical care facilities such as hospital nursing stations.

It’ll be interesting to see how Chrome PCs are priced — our guess is that they’ll be priced pretty low — and whether they appeal to consumers. No one is saying, at least publicly, that Chrome could give Microsoft a run for its money by replacing Windows. Windows is too firmly entrenched; there are many custom apps for it and Windows 7 has proven to be the best Windows since Windows 2000. On the other hand, Android smartphones have become as dominant as the iPhone, far exceeding even what Microsoft might dream of with Windows Phone 7 (WP7).

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