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Reality Absorption Field: What happens in Vegas

A few years ago, a senior Apple executive was once told that, even though Apple did not exhibit at the annual Las Vegas spectacle that is the International Consumer Electronics Show, its presence seemed to linger in the arid air and in the clouded minds of many attendees. "We love that," he replied.

But cashing in on the media attention around CES is but one reason that the the tech show from which Apple abstains has relevance to it. At this year's CES, for example, there were several trends that had relevance to Apple's business both from a cooperative and competitive perspective:

Displays

The main attraction in the CES circus is almost always television, historically the largest consumer electronics category. The show has long hosted advances in TV sets and their AV peripherals. Following in the footsteps of HD and 3D, 4K dominated the announcements of major consumer electronics companies at the 2013 show. Even with Apple's television set still a rumor, the heightened resolution represents an answer form HDTV manufacturers who have seen Apple boast that the iPad's Retina display contains more pixels than their living room behemoths (even though a 4K TV currently costs about 40 times what an iPad costs).

Radios

But it's not all a competitive story. The availability of TVs that can accommodate the iPad's Retina Display could add value to future versions of AirPlay. Of course, that would be helped by a bigger wireless pipe between the iDevice and the TV, and new Wi-Fi standards were on display at CES. 802.11ac -- the 5 GHz-only successor to 802.11n -- products are slated to be certified by the Wi-Fi Alliance with this year. And right before the show, the Wi-Fi Alliance noted that it had merged with the WiGig Alliance; the combined work on short-range sharing in the 60 GHz range which should facilitate the sharing of multigigabit video in the same room, again providing more options. Alas, the Alliance is also again providing more options for future Apple TV products. On the other hand, the alliance is also gearing up to throw its weight behind Miracast, the AirPlay competitor that is already supported by some smartphones.

Chips

Speaking of competition, the number and kinds of products that compete with Apple's that are shown at CES varies. Following the release of the iPad, there were scores of tablets shown by exhibitors, nearly all of which flopped in the marketplace. With the exception of Lenovo, though, almost all major PC vendors shy from the hallways of the Las Vegas Convention Center. And with Microsoft now leaving CES, that left Intel to carry the PC banner.

The giant chipmaker employed some marketing mojo regarding the evolution of higher-efficiency chips that will benefit all of its hardware partners, including Apple, of course. Intel also continues to work toward expanding its role in tablets and smartphones, but it will face competition from ARM-based rivals, including Nvidia's Tegra 4. The new processor includes an impressive 72 graphics cores that should keep Apple on its toes as it evolves beyond today's A6.


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Ross Rubin is principal analyst at Reticle Research and blogs at Techspressive. Opinions expressed in Reality Absorption Field are his own.