With Microsoft out of spotlight, Google's integrated technology will shine

Without Microsoft presenting its keynote or hosting a booth at CES for the first time in 14 years, the door is left wide open for another major consumer electronics player to cast a large shadow over the confab in Las Vegas this week.

Expect all eyes to be on Google.

Google has long sent staffers to CES, but they’ve never been there to wave the company flag. It doesn’t bring executives out to give keynote speeches. And it forgoes renting booth space (opting instead for just a meeting room). But with its shotgun approach of integrating its products into everything from smartphones to TV sets from a long list of manufacturers, Google will be integrated into many of the devices that will have people buzzing at CES and the rest of the year.

“I think Google is going to make quite a splash at this year’s show, even if it doesn’t make a formal appearance there,” says strategic innovation consultant Scott Steinberg. “It has extended its tentacles into everything. It’s the belle of the ball.”

The thinking goes like this: As people become more loyal to Android on their phones and tablets, they’re more willing to consider an Android-enhanced TV due to the interoperability. That helps manufacturers like Samsung. At the same time, Google sees its ad revenues spike as people use its devices for all parts of their day-to-day lives.

This year, Android 4.1 and 4.2 are expected to be the most popular operating systems on smartphones, which will also see more processing power (thanks to nVidia’s expected upgrade to the Tegra chipset).

Google TV, which hasn’t been the hit many were expecting, will seek to generate attention. LG has announced two new TV models (in varying sizes) that will come equipped with the service this year. All will ship with LG’s Magic Remote, which lets users search for content using Google TV’s voice search capabilities.

The Android operating system is also showing up in unusual places. Polaroid plans to unveil an Android-powered, interchangeable-lens camera at this year’s show.

The hitch here is that Google itself won’t be the company people are talking about. After stealing thunder from (and starting to compete against) many of its partners with the introduction of the Nexus phone last year, the company is more likely to remain a background player, albeit a significant one.

“They’re clearly going to have a presence, but they’re not going to be the front line name you hear,” says P.J. McNealy, an analyst with Digital World Research. “You’re going to hear more about Samsung, Panasonic, LG and so forth.”

Microsoft will still have a presence at CES. It will be hard for CES’ more than 140,000 attendees to walk too far on the Las Vegas Convention Center floor without seeing a new PC or tablet running Windows 8.

The decision to stay out of the CES spotlight isn’t expected to have any negative impact. January has never synced with the company’s release slate, and it’s been years since Microsoft has made any truly big announcements at its press conference.

Instead, expect the company to organize stand-alone press events for its big launches and announcements – or use other tradeshows as launching pads.

Company also is putting more emphasis on its retail outlets to promote its products like its Surface tablet. Microsoft plans to open at least six new stores this year, after opening 51 locations in 2012.

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