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For as striking as it was to see so few PCs at the annual Consumer Electronics Show -- a confab that Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT ) had headlined for years -- it was even more striking to see so few legitimate iPhone and iPad challengers.
Only Ballmer's and Dr. Paul Jacobs' Windows 8 handsets stood out, and only because Qualcomm put photos of them up on the keynote big screen. Not exactly inspiring.
Meanwhile, CNET described Nokia's presence as "invisible" -- accurate, I think -- while Research In Motion stayed on message about its BlackBerry 10, which is to be unveiled on Jan. 30. Shipping should follow within a month.
Which means, for the moment, there are precious few threats to Apple's (NASDAQ: AAPL ) business. The stock is down another 3% today, regardless.
Crazy barely begins to describe the market action. In studying what the CES crowds were actually using, I found most of the text-walkers -- attendees who were heads-down on their devices while navigating the show floor -- were using iPads, iPhones, or some form of Android device. Call it a win for both Apple and Google, though the Mac maker might not be so well positioned next year. Both Qualcomm and NVIDIA (NASDAQ: NVDA ) announced new quad-core mobile chipsets capable of pushing the limits of what a smartphone can do.
We don't yet know where these chips will end up, but it's a good bet that Jacobs' on-stage theatrics with Ballmer foreshadow Windows Phone 8 handsets using Qualcomm's S600 and S800 chipsets with integrated graphics.
NVIDIA, meanwhile, calls Tegra 4 the world's fastest mobile processor. A new design adds six times more graphics processing horsepower than its predecessor and includes an optional LTE radio. All signs point to Qualcomm and NVIDIA going head-to-head in a battle to be the brains of new Android and Windows devices.
Where does that leave Apple? In the same catbird seat it occupies right now. Sure, the new chips introduce pressure to make an A7 processor that's materially faster and more efficient than the A6X chip found in the fourth-generation iPad. History says the Mac maker will deliver -- even if big-money investors don't believe it yet.
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