How Tech's Royalty Plays CES

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- As 2011 kicks into full gear, the technology industry will usher in a new generation of products at its annual Consumer Electronics Show, which kicks off with pre-show speeches Wednesday evening in Las Vegas.

Most of tech will be there, with hundreds of small firms scrambling to make a name for themselves. Tech's royalty, however -- Microsoft ( MSFT), Google ( GOOG) and Apple ( AAPL) -- capitalize on the show in their own unique ways.
2011 CES

Not all of them show off products at the event. And in some cases, they do their best to minimize the favorable impact the show might have on the competition.

Microsoft

Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer will jumpstart CES with a keynote Wednesday, the night before festivities officially begin. Typically, Ballmer uses his keynote to promote Microsoft's most important products. Last year, he talked about the success of Windows 7, the company's efforts in the consumer space and, most notably, he showed off several tablets that would run Windows and compete with Apple's iPad.

Ballmer, of course, didn't deliver on his tablet promises. The Hewlett-Packard ( HPQ) Slate, which many believed would help usher in a flurry of Windows-based tablets, launched late last year, but it's hard to find any record of consumers or enterprise customers that have purchased it.

Whether or not Ballmer can enjoy a better track record this year remains to be seen. But he will undoubtedly use his platform at CES to make bold promises -- and new tablet announcements. Reports started swirling late last month that said Microsoft was prepping a new version of Windows 7 designed for ARM Holdings ( ARMH) chip architecture. Microsoft hasn't confirmed the rumors, but unveiling such a platform -- using ARM's ubiquitous, low-powered chips -- could be the software giant's most important step yet into the tablet space.

Finally, Microsoft is expected to talk about Windows 8, the next edition of the company's operating system. Details are few and far between, but some believe the new operating system will feature an app store, similar to the Mac App Store that Apple will open on Thursday.

Google

Google is using CES to its advantage in a different way than Microsoft. With the search giant's Android OS expected to blanket the show in a variety of mobile devices, Google seems most content to leave the heavy product-debut lifting to its vendor partners.

Several hardware makers, including HTC, Motorola ( MMI), Samsung, Toshiba and Vizio are expected to show off new mobile devices running Android and its latest iteration. Google will also make a significant play for the tablet space with Android 3.0, the new and reportedly improved version of the OS.

But it's not all good news for Google.

Recent rumors suggest that the company has asked its Google TV vendors to hold off on unveiling their products at CES. There is also speculation that Google asked Logitech ( LOGI) to temporarily stop production of its Revue set-top box.

Those reports, while not confirmed by Google, have helped spur concerns that Google TV isn't performing as well as it could. If Google TV devices don't make a splash at CES, some investors might want to know why.

Apple

Apple doesn't do trade shows. Instead, preferring to be the sole focus of media and consumer attention, it throws its own product launch parties.

But that doesn't stop Apple from making a mark on CES. A slew of tablet makers will unveil their answers to Apple's iPad, which in 2010 helped to revitalize tech and breathed new life into a sector left practically untouched by other tech firms.

Then there's the coming of the iPhone to the nation's largest wireless shop Verizon ( VZ), a much-hyped event that, while likely not to occur at CES, will have have tech watchers attending Verizon CEO Ivan Seidenberg's keynote speech Thursday morning.

Then there's Apple's tendency to push news during and just after CES. In 2007, Apple CEO Steve Jobs unveiled the iPhone the day after CES started. Last year, Apple debuted the iPad a few weeks after the show ended. And this year, the company will open its Mac App Store on January 6, allowing Mac users the ability to download apps as they do on the iPhone or iPad -- potentially stealing some limelight from the competition at CES.

For Apple, CES is little more than a distraction. And with a new market cap of more than $300 billion, a $4 billion profit reported for last quarter and a stock price that has increased more than 54% since last January, Apple doesn't need CES.

--Written by Don Reisinger in New York.

Don Reisinger has been writing columns and blogs about the technology and video game industries for years. His work appears in some of the tech industry�s biggest publications, as well as in the Los Angeles Times, where he blogs about social networking. Follow Reisinger on Twitter @donreisinger.

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