The Tech World's Week of Buzz

By Yuki Noguchi and Rob Pegoraro
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, January 8, 2007

Today marks the beginning of Tech Week, the annual pilgrimage to Las Vegas and San Francisco for two trade shows that will feature the gadgets that could capture the world's attention for the next 12 months.

The International Consumer Electronics Show, celebrating its 40th year, is a vast showcase of everything tech that's bringing an estimated 140,000 people to the Nevada desert. By contrast, Macworld is a smaller-scale show that attracts about 40,000 people, mostly Apple-related vendors and Apple aficionados, to San Francisco.

The two shows, as much as they are different in magnitude, are important to the technology industry. Apple -- with its popular iPod, fast-growing online iTunes Store and Mac computer line -- continues to grab the attention of mainstream consumers around the globe, while the must-attend mind-set surrounding CES continues to prove what a powerful industrial force consumer technology has become.

In San Francisco, the annual keynote speech, which will be delivered by chief executive Steve Jobs tomorrow, traditionally has been the launching pad for Apple's coveted new products, the iPod Shuffle, video-capable iPod models and the Mac Mini among them. And the routine is usually the same: The company tries to keep its announcements secret until Jobs -- who takes to the stage in his trademark black mock turtleneck and blue jeans, sans belt -- unveils them.

This year Jobs will almost certainly reveal the shipping version of a wireless device he introduced in September that will link a home computer with the living room TV, allowing people to watch shows and movies downloaded from iTunes on the TV's big screen.

There's also buzz that a new iPod cellphone could steal the spotlight. And Mac enthusiasts are expecting a new version of the popular iLife software suite, which includes the iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD and GarageBand programs.

Unlike Macworld, CES generally doesn't have a single focus so much as many ongoing themes.

Last night at a pre-show kickoff, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates delivered his annual, standing-room-only state-of-the-industry speech.

His focus this year: ways to link computers and the other hardware people use to play music and movies -- and not just handheld devices. For instance, Gates demonstrated a new technology called Sync, to be built into a dozen Ford vehicles this year, that would sync things like music, address books and cellphone ring tones with the car stereo.

"Our ambition is to give you connected experiences 24 hours a day," he told a crowd of about 3,500 in a ballroom at the Venetian hotel last night. "In thinking about that, one of the areas demands special work, and that is in the car."

Unlike Macworld, which tends to showcase products immediately available for purchase, CES is more about what's on the horizon -- or not. Some products revealed by Gates at CES in years past -- such as a "Dick Tracy"-like smart watch in 2004 -- never became must-have gadgets. Still, CES offers a chance to take in all the hype and circumstance firms have to offer, and it functions like a debutante ball for some of the newest, most clever devices. What happens at the show often sets expectations of what's to come that year.

"It's the annual event where anyone who's anyone in technology comes to get a glimpse of the future," said Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Arlington-based Consumer Electronics Association, which sponsors the event. The show keeps growing in size and importance because now representatives from all the big players in the cable, telecommunications, entertainment and financial industries come to check out what's happening.

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