Ultra-thin laptops set to dazzle CES gadget fair

SAN FRANCISCO - Ultra-thin laptops will take centre-stage alongside new software and smartphones at the annual Consumer Electronics Show (CES), a gadget extravaganza that officially opens on Tuesday in Las Vegas.

The more than 2,700 exhibitors filling an excess of 1.8 million square feet - approximately 33 US football fields - will range from car, computer and chip makers to technology startups and iPhone accessory sellers.

Attendance at the four-day show was expected to be on par with the 149,000 people who showed up last year to see what sexy gizmos will vie for consumers' hearts and cash in the months ahead.

"With some 20,000 new products, CES really is the place to be to get the industry together, take stock of what is coming and get business done," said Tara Dunion of the Consumer Electronics Association, which organises CES.

While tablet computers aspiring to unseat Apple's market-ruling iPads were the rage at last year's CES, slim yet powerful laptop computers referred to as "ultrabooks" are expected to crowd the spotlight next week.

CES organisers on Thursday predicted that 30 to 40 new ultrabook laptops would debut at the show.

China-based computer titan Lenovo on Thursday announced that a ThinkPad X1 Hybrid laptop - boasting as much as 10 hours of battery life - as well as the company's first business ultrabook, will debut at the show.

"The ThinkPad X1 Hybrid and T430u ultrabook represent the next generation in thin and light computing," said Lenovo ThinkPad's Dilip Bhatia.

"These new crossover laptops fundamentally change the way people think about mobile computing technology."

Forrester analyst Sarah Rothman Epps heralded the arrival of an ultrabook "sexy PC revolution."

"We expect to see thin-and-light, quick-boot designs from every PC (personal computer) manufacturer to rival the MacBook Air," Epps told AFP.

"The prices, mostly in the $1000 price range, are much more reasonable than they used to be for comparable PCs, but they're still not affordable for every PC buyer."

Lenovo's new ultrabook has a starting price of $849.

A Forrester survey late last year revealed that 22 per cent of PC shoppers online in the United States said they would be interested in buying ultrabooks.

Electronics makers will also out new tablet computers at CES, but far less than last year, when more than 80 contenders were fielded.

Epps expects Motorola, Toshiba, Acer and others to introduce tablets powered by Google's latest Android software.

"Will they sell better than last year?... I don't expect to see any barn-burners, but there's reason to be optimistic."

The percentage of US tablet shoppers who say they prefer Android systems doubled to 18 per cent in the first ten months of last year, according to Forrester.

Smartphones are meanwhile expected to upstage tablets at CES, with Android software powering many innovative handsets.

The heads of chip makers Intel and Qualcomm are to give keynote presentations about high-powered processors tailored to drive ever more sophisticated smartphones.

CES goers will also be watching for new devices running Microsoft's Windows 8 software.

Apple doesn't officially attend CES, but a section devoted to iPhone, iPod, and iPad accessories has tripled to 88,000 square feet in the past three years.

Google and Yahoo have played growing roles in CES as television set makers collaborate with the California technology firms to connect viewers to online shows and websites.

LG will debut as a Google TV maker at CES, where Sony and Samsung are to show off new Google TV devices.

Google executive chairman Eric Schmidt will take part in a Tuesday panel discussion focused on "the next big thing" in consumer electronics.

Cars made smart with sensors, computer chips, and Internet connections will also be among the attention-getters at CES.

"We have more auto makers than ever before," Dunion said.

"There will also be a lot of announcements about charging stations and resources to prove electric cars are here and not some sort of distant concept."

As usual, CES will also boast a dizzying swirl of quirky gadgets and appearances by Hollywood stars, sports legends, and pop music icons.

YouTube vice president Robert Kyncl will deliver an "Entertainment Matters" keynote presentation at CES, while singing sensation Justin Bieber will help unveil a TOSY toy robot on Wednesday.

CES will be rife with wearable gadgets, including an Android watch, a wristband health monitor, and ski goggles with build in digital video cameras for live-streaming adventures online.

Innovations in 3D television will once again be touted, with backers hoping to finally stir marketplace demand for a format that has failed to catch on with consumers.

Technology companies also hope to catch a gesture-control wave set in motion by the success of Microsoft Kinect devices for Xbox 360 videogame consoles.