The key mobile trends emerging from CES 2011

Motorola's post-PC play, the 4G era starts to arrive, and the new generation of Android is about to be born

At this year's Consumer Electronics Show, it's all about mobile -- and mostly about Android. Strictly speaking, that's not true; there were also plenty of HDTVs, stereo speakers, and other home entertainment wares on display, but the main events have all been about mobile. Naturally, every demo is accompanied by breathless praise by executives of their own "groundbreaking" products -- but beyond the hype, is there anything really important coming out of CES?

Yes, there are plenty of products whose chief innovation is a cosmetic change, but in fact CES 2011's mobile parade reveals key developments for both users and businesses to track in the coming year. After the Las Vegas Convention Center empties out this weekend and everyone returns home, here's what will continue to matter.

[ Where is mobile tech heading? InfoWorld's Galen Gruman lays out a timeline for 2011 through 2020. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights with the Mobile Edge blog and Mobilize newsletter. ]

The post-PC era begins in earnest
Last summer, I suggested that smartphones would ultimately replace desktop PCs for most users, with mobile devices being the computer you always carried, one that you would wirelessly dock to other hardware when you needed to use a large screen, keyboard, mouse, or other resources. This week, Motorola Mobility announced the Atrix, an Android smartphone expected to ship this spring, that can dock to a "dumb" laptop, essentially converting itself into a netbook.

"Consumers are increasingly using smartphones as their primary digital screens," says Bill Ogle, chief marketing officer at Motorola Mobility. He's right -- the iPad showed the way, but this is the first concrete step from outside the world of Steve Jobs that is moving us in this direction.

We'll see more post-PC developments this year. Google's cloud-only Chrome OS, now in public beta through the Cr-48 "Chromebook," is expected this summer. It may be accompanied by Research in Motion's PlayBook, a small tablet that works on its own via Wi-Fi but also uses BlackBerrys as a 3G tether and presumably will have deeper integration with RIM's smartphones. Then we'll see the slew of Android 3.0 "Honeycomb" tablets meant to rival the iPad, as well as the next-gen iPad 2 widely expected this spring. Apple's Steve Jobs has suggested an eventual merger of the Mac OS X and iOS, in what I suspect is the endpoint of his vision of the end of the traditional PC era.

All of these devices, despite their different implementations, have a common vision: People are moving away from traditional PCs and laptops to mobile hardware such as iPads, other tablets, and perhaps thin-client laptops like the Chromebooks.

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