The annual Consumer Electronics Show is something that has to be experienced to be truly understandable.

More than 2,700 exhibitors filled the huge Las Vegas Convention Center and overflowed to the Las Vegas Hilton, the Venetian Hotel and other venues. More than 140,000 attendees went window shopping among these vendors, each looking to see what hot technologies and products will be hot in 2011.

While the most popular introductions seemed to be 3D televisions, monitors, and laptops, a technology with limited professional application (at least at the present time), many other technologies and products that were shown would be of interest to accountants.

One of the most eagerly anticipated announcements at the show was the formal launch of the second-generation Intel “I” series processors. Codenamed "Sandy Bridge," the new evolution of the chip offers better performance with less power draw. More energy efficiency was a theme that was much in evidence, whether in a washer or dryer, or in a laptop or desktop. With the economy slowly recovering, there are likely to be a lot of equipment upgrades this year that have been put off, so energy efficiency and environmental impact are something that you might need to consider for both your clients and your own practice.

Of course, tablets were big news as well. There may only be a few models that are currently shipping, but dozens of models were being displayed and demonstrated. While some use the 10-inch form factor of the iPad, a 7-inch touch screen was far more prevalent. For the most part, tablets are the easiest way to go mobile, weighing less than even a netbook. By far the greatest number of tablets being shown use the Android operating system, with Windows 7 also used on a fair number of models. There are already a substantial number of smartphone links that provide remote use of accounting applications, so expect to see many popular accountant-oriented applications provided in tablet format.

That’s not to say that smartphones won’t play an expanding role in your and your clients’ businesses. Intuit was demonstrating its card swipe payment smartphone add-on that lets your clients accept credit card payments without having to be at a point-of-sale terminal or a PC keyboard. Having one of these in your briefcase or laptop bag might not be a bad idea. Instead of having to wait for a promised payment, you can swipe a corporate card and get paid immediately. And, of course, many of your clients would benefit from being able to process credit card payments in real-time through QuickBooks’ credit card processing service.

Getting money quickly was also the foundation for the technology that Mitek Systems was showing. Mitek itself doesn’t sell a product, but instead develops the technology that lets you take a picture of the front and back of a check made out to you, and have the check automatically posted to your account. At the moment, only a few major U.S. banks have adopted the technology, but Mitek says that agreements with more banks are in the works.

Old print technology was new again at the show. Memjet, which has been showing a very fast 60 page-per-minute inkjet office printer technology for three years, looks ready to actually bring it to market. Showing the printer, and announcing that Lenovo will be building it in China for the Managed Print Services market in India, raises hopes that the technology will also hit the U.S. sometime later this year. Epson already has an office-quality inkjet printer, the B-550 ,which it introduced last year, and can print at 35ppm, duplex, and has a paper tray that can hold a full ream of paper.

And who can’t use more storage on their network? Numerous vendors, including Seagate, Western Digital, and Iomega, were showing off their Network Attached Storage units. Seagate’s Black Armor 440 was introduced last year with up to 8 terabytes of capacity. The model being show at this year’s show uses four 3TB drives to yield 12TB of available capacity. Solid State Drives have also started to pick up market space. New vendors like Seagate and Western Digital have hopped on the bandwagon, and capacities are going up while prices are dropping. They haven’t reached anywhere near parity with rotating drives, but are becoming affordable for use as boot drives in PCs or network servers, or as a replacement for laptop hard drives.

PogoPlug Pro offers an alternative for those who want to be able to access additional storage in their own cloud. PogoPlug doesn’t actually come with its own storage. You plug in any Universal Serial Bus storage device you want to use, including high-capacity flash drives and external USB hard disk drives. When you first attach PogoPlug to a network with Ethernet access, the device automatically sets itself up. Administration and access are accomplished with a Web browser, and you can make pretty much any kind of media accessible to whoever you want to have access. The newest PogoPlug Professional can also act as a print server.

Displays were very much in evidence at the show. While many vendors were touting the 3D capability of their LCD monitors, the wide availability of lower-cost high-resolution displays bodes well for anyone who spends hours staring at one. While it’s unlikely (but not impossible) that we’ll see spreadsheets and Word documents in 3D anytime soon, higher display resolution means crisper characters and images, and less eyestrain.

When you have to make a presentation on the road, you used to have to make sure that a large display device, either a monitor or projector, was available at your destination, or drag your own projector along. If you don’t need to project a huge display, one of the new class of projectors — pico projectors small enough to fit in a shirt pocket — might fit the bill. 3M introduced its PocketProjector last year and now has four models, with the top-of-the-line MP180 offering a touch screen, Web browser access, and 32 lumens of brightness. That doesn’t sound like much, but it is sufficient to project up to an 80-inch image in a darkened room. Other vendors, including Optima, Vivtek, and Cinemin, also showed pico projectors, so the prices should start dropping enough to make them affordable as a carry-along accessory in your laptop case.

Technologies that were announced at the last CES, like teleconferencing, are really starting to emerge as products such as Cisco’s Umi, and smartphone-based FaceTime and QIK. And for the many accountants who still need to travel to client sites, OnStar’s announcement of a retrofit version of the “Blue Button” device and service, which will be sold at Best Buy this spring, will be a comfort to those who wished they had OnStar in their non-General Motors car.

With a show offering almost 3,000 vendors, as well as meetings behind closed hotel doors, you can be sure that the technologies highlighted here are just the tip of the iceberg. We can count on the fact that there will be plenty of technology surprises that were not even hinted at during this year’s CES, but will be emerging later in the year.

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