Acer, ASUS and Lenovo, Chinese tech giants surprise you at CES 2015

Believe or not Chinese tech giants surprise you at CES 2015! Just pay close attention to Acer, ASUS and Lenovo their yearly reveals, you'll often find some of the show's more interesting gadgets.

Brands like ASUS and Lenovo (among many others) have a knack for either inventing new device categories or pushing the limits of existing formulas. They virtually define the landscape for hybrid PCs, and they're often willing to stretch the boundaries of smartphones, wearables and TVs. In anticipation of the coming CES, we attempt to gauge just what each of these major Chinese-language players will bring to Las Vegas in 2015. But first, let's indulge in a little history lesson.

A LOOK BACK

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As little as a few years ago, it was tempting to dismiss the Chinese-speaking CES presence out of hand. Big brands like Acer, ASUS and Lenovo tended to unveil lots of PCs andperipherals (including some particularly clever ones, mind you) rather than push the boundaries. Others, like Huawei, TCL and ZTE, didn't have much to show in the first place. They had a few gadgets you might like, such as basic cellphones and Blu-ray players, but a lot of what they did involved behind-the-scenes tech; think cellular sites and WiFi hotspots. As important as these firms could be at times, they weren't going to get much attention compared to behemoths like Samsung and Sony, which could easily wow showgoers with walls full of giant TVs and other eye-catching hardware.

Around 2010 and 2011, however, something happened -- specifically, mobile happened. Smartphones, smartbooks (mobile OS laptops) and tablets came into vogue, and these companies were more than happy to leap on the bandwagon. ASUS went whole-hog with no fewer than four Eee tablets at CES 2011; Acer and Huawei started trickling out Androiddevices, and Lenovo stepped out of its PC comfort zone with devices like the Skylight smartbook and U1 Hybrid tablet. TCL made a name for itself in smartphones through theAlcatel OneTouch badge, while Hisense has shown that it can compete with the TV industry's heavyweights. These Chinese-language brands didn't necessarily steal the limelight from CES' biggest names, but they definitely made you sit up and take notice.

For the most part, they've only become more important over time. Lenovo's well-knownYoga laptops got their debut on the Las Vegas show floor, and it's still testing the limits with exotic concepts like 4K Android all-in-ones. Huawei and ZTE were once wallflowers that launched nearly all of their important gear at other events, but they now use CES to unveil some of their biggest devices (in some cases, literally). And for ASUS, this is a big opportunity to make a splash with gadgets of all kinds, ranging from dual-booting hybrid PCs to rejuvenated smartphone lineups. Simply put, you ignore these companies at your peril -- you might miss out on the next big trend.

THE ROAD AHEAD

So what's next? To a large extent, that depends on which company you're talking about. The biggest stars of the show have lately been ASUS and Lenovo, both of which like to experiment with form factors. As NPD Group VP of Industry Analysis Stephen Baker tells us, ASUS has "never been afraid" to try new device concepts. "If you're going to bet on someone making something that you'll at least pay attention to ... it's a good company to bet on," he says. Lenovo isn't always so daring, but you certainly can't rule out a Yoga-like machine that captures the public's interest. Just don't expect Lenovo to do much with Motorola. Baker and other analysts I spoke to agree that it's "too soon" for the company to make good use of its American acquisition.

PC-oriented Chinese vendors like Acer, ASUS and Lenovo will embrace very low-cost Windows laptops.

You may also want to temper any expectations that Huawei or ZTE will do something spectacular to get a foothold in the US. Jackdaw Research Chief Analyst Jan Dawson explains that the two have a habit of unveiling powerful smartphones that never officially reach American shores. "Both companies have been promising for years now that they'll break into the mainstream in the US, with a branded device on a major carrier's postpaid service," Dawson says, "but it just hasn't happened." In short, don't get your hopes up unless either of them explicitly commits to stateside releases. Their tablets typically stand a better chance of crossing the Pacific than anything else.

Despite the apparent disconnect, you'll likely see some common threads at CES. Gartner analyst Ken Dulaney expects to see "Surface-like products" that one-up Microsoft's signature keyboard-friendly tablet. Hybrid PCs like convertible tablets will still be in vogue even if the category never really took off, Dawson adds. Baker, meanwhile, anticipates that PC-oriented Chinese and Taiwanese vendors like Acer, ASUS and Lenovo will embrace very low-cost Windows laptops (à la HP's Stream line) with gusto -- they're determined to offer alternatives to both Chromebooks and mid-priced tablets. You might also witness a "flood" of both small Windows tablets and larger entry-level models, Baker says. It's equally reasonable to believe that PCs based on Intel's new Broadwell series processors will be everywhere, although they might not ship for a while.

And yes, you should brace yourself for an onslaught of wearables. If CES 2011 was marked by a slew of me-too tablets riding the iPad's coattails, 2015 could see many Chinese-speaking makers revealing smartwatches and fitness trackers in response to what Apple, Samsung and others are doing. Whether or not they're actually ready for prime time is another story. Baker reckons that many of these will be "concepts" that try out different designs and technologies, since the companies are likely aware that the expectations for apps and features could turn on a dime within the next several months. Why pour all your energy into hardware that could be obsolete by the time it ships?

Some of the constants of past CES events will remain. Brands like Hisense will probably unveil ever larger and more elaborate TVs, and you're bound to see another round of cheap Android tablets. However, the one thing you can't do is take the Chinese-language crew for granted. There's a good chance that at least one of them will introduce a high-profile device that you never saw coming -- and that's part of what makes these East Asian giants so exciting.

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