Industry marches ahead with plans to copy, counter Apple

CES — After making our way through a dizzying series of meetings and events on the press-oriented "day zero" of the Consumer Electronics Show 2012, we've managed, thanks to a keen ability to spot the obvious, to identify the two major trends that appear to be the big stories of this year's show—at least from the perspective of the big players in the PC industry we cover. Those two trends are: tablets and ultrabooks. In one Venetian ballroom, Intel's Mooly Eden was hawking the latest sleek and thin ultrabooks from all of the big PC makers, most of them looking ever-so-much like the MacBook Air. In another, Nvidia's Jen-Hsun Huang sat comfortably in an armchair giving demos of mobile apps like Snapspeed and Splashtop, which were first hits on iOS and have now been ported to Android and the Tegra 3. The Tegra 3 demo tablet of choice? Asus' svelte Transformer Prime, with its bevel-edged aluminum enclosure looking for all the world like an iPad 2 with a nice paint job. Upstairs, Microsoft's Steve Ballmer was set to deliver his last-ever CES keynote, in which he presumably would extol the virtues of the upcoming Windows 8, with its touch-oriented user interface and, uh, revolutionary new app store.

Now, one wouldn't say that these products aren't decent enough and compelling in many cases, with their own advantages and refinements to the basic concepts in play. We're quite taken with the docking scheme of the Transformer Prime and the tile-based motif of Win8's Metro UI, to name just two examples. Still, it's shocking, the degree to which Apple has set the templates that the rest of the industry has chosen to follow. We thought the industry's Apple obsession had climaxed at CES 2011, but that was apparently just a prelude to this year's show, where we've learned that the PC industry has, in a huge way, gone back to its roots in, you know, cloning things.

Although Apple itself has traditionally had no official presence at CES, it seemed Steve Jobs' ghost was lurking behind the demo units placed on tables throughout Pepcom's Digital Experience event this evening, regardless of whether the corporate logos in the backdrop belonged to HP, Lenovo, Samsung, or Toshiba.

Now, it's early still, so perhaps we're wrong. Perhaps we'll see a cornucopia of brave new concepts from unexpected quarters, or maybe there will be some additional announcements of note in the next few days. That's generally not how these things tend to go, though. Usually, the story of the show is written by the end of day "zero," and the story we're writing now is most definitely about a couple of Apple products that many PC enthusiasts, including maybe even yours truly, initially received with a pretty heavy—but not necessarily healthy—dose of skepticism. Judging by CES 2012, what comes next apparently got its start several years ago with the introduction of the MacBook Air and the iPad.

If you don't like Apple's products, don't worry. HP and Toshiba will have their own versions shipping soon.

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