Technology enthusiasts from all over the world are descending on Las Vegas this week for the 2012 International Consumer Electronics Show (CES), which kicks off tomorrow. Most consumers will be on the hunt for advancements in products including smart cars, smartphones and high-definition televisions. But small-business owners can also find value at this massive electronics show.
For example, there will be advancements in work tools such as notebook PCs, improvements in consumer products with unexpected business applications including Internet-connected televisions. Also, expect plenty of upgrades to popular business software.
Here are the major business tech trends to watch for:
1. Smart TVs: The Next Small Business Display
What is it: It should come as no surprise that there will be a vast number of consumer-oriented TVs on display at CES. But with a slew of Internet-connected "Smart TVs" expected to be unveiled, next-generation TVs aren't necessarily a passive device anymore. They might actually have a place inside your business as high-tech signage, a waiting room addition or a conference room display.
Who's doing it: Google TV has been leading the smart TV charge, but it is expected that mainstream makers such as South Korea-based Samsung and Irvine, Calif.-based Broadcom will show updated Android-powered sets. On top of that, Apple Inc. is expected to announce its own advanced interactive television solution later in 2012.
How to make it work for you: These smart displays should function like a giant smartphone or tablet, able to display weather, news, sports and other content side by side with company marketing material on-demand. A retail store or bakery might use it as part of its point-of-sale marketing, displaying menus with client-created pictures or other content. Or a smart TV can be deployed as a Web-enabled employee kiosk on the sales floor or in the break room.
2. Microsoft Making the Call on Windows 8
What is it: Tech giant Microsoft is expected to focus this year on its upcoming Windows 8 operating system. Windows 8 will likely become available for public beta testing sometime early in 2012, raising the question: What's in it for small companies?
What will work: In early demos, Windows' new user interface works similar to the Windows Phone mobile environment, with a start screen that features a well-laid-out grid of apps that let users quickly dive into programs. Windows 8 also manages multiple monitors, has full integration for Microsoft's cloud-based Office 365 and the Windows Phone tools, and security has been improved.
What won't: Even though Windows 8 boasts what might be Microsoft's best user interface ever, it might be a difficult sell for small businesses. A number of companies still have not upgraded to Windows 7. Many still use Windows XP. So, Windows 8 might be a couple steps ahead what many firms are currently used to. Plus, some businesses might not be able to justify the expense and hassle of migrating to a new OS when so many of the changes are merely cosmetic.
3. The Business Case for Ultrabooks
What is it: Ultrabooks are a new family of super-thin, ultra-light notebook computers. Upwards of 50 new models are expected to be demoed at CES this year from the major laptop makers. Asus, Toshiba, Lenovo and Acer have either announced, or already have their own Ultrabooks in circulation.
The term Ultrabooks is actually copyrighted by Intel, which is pushing for this new breed of notebook as it struggles to keep the PC relevant in the age of mobile devices. Ultrabooks usually don't weigh more than about three pounds, are less than an inch thick and offer rapid start-up times.
Who can use it: Ultrabooks can potentially be a useful tool for just about any business. They are similar to tablets in terms of portability, convenience, weight and bulk. But they also have built-in keyboards and powerful processing speeds compared to tablets. They are comparatively priced at about $1,000.
If you get in on these three trends, these latest tools can offer your business a serious technology boost.