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Apps on TV, augmented-reality software stars of CES 2012

Televisions powered by software services, augmented-reality apps, a QWERTY killer, and one program that's presiding over the unholy matrimony of Android and Windows 8 are the big hits of CES 2012.

BlueStacks for Windows 8 scored a Best of CES Award in Software and Apps from CNET editors. CNET

Software is becoming a bigger part of CES, which is a bit ironic since Microsoft has begun to pull back its presence. CES 2012 saw the rise of familiar software names powering your living room TV, augmented-reality apps that created a new way to interact with the world around you, a stone-cold assassination attempt on the QWERTY keyboard, and a deft program that ports Android apps into Windows 8.

Let's start with BlueStacks for Windows 8, our Best of CES Award winner in the Software and Apps category. We first looked at a rough version of BlueStacks last year. Now, many of the kinks have been ironed out as it prepares to bring you the entire Android app catalog in Windows 8, complete with individual tiles for each app. Angry Birds Metro, anyone?

One of the most common questions that CNET readers ask is, "How the heck do I cut the cable TV cord and still watch my shows?" While there are numerous paths up that particular mountain, one new answer is to get a Web-enabled TV. We saw a smorgasbord of quality TVs powered by software at CES 2012, including a demo of Opera TV's new Web app store; BitTorrent-enabled TVs, media players, and set-top boxes; and the Lenovo K91 that will run Android's Ice Cream Sandwich. (There was also an Android TV by an outfit called Nyxio, although we didn't get a chance to see it.)

There was even a Ubuntu TV prototype. Yep, that's "Ubuntu" as in "Linux," which will have built-in DVR functions, support 1080p, and like BitTorrent TV, it'll be able to share media across devices.

Another must-see app is the QWERTY-obliterating Snapkeys. Snapkeys is an invisible keyboard that uses 2i technology and predictive typing to eliminate the need to actually look where you're typing on touch-screen devices. It's a bit ridiculous that in the age of nascent augmented reality we're still typing on keyboards that haven't evolved much in 100 years.

Speaking of augmented reality, the show also proved that mobile apps are getting smarter. And by smarter, we don't mean they're simply adding more functions or refreshing their user interfaces. No, we're talking Skynet kind of smarter, and it's kind of scary.

Take Vlingo's Virtual Assistant for TVs, slated for release in the US and Europe sometime this year. You may recognize the name as a popular iPhone and Android app, but Vlingo is now bringing its natural voice command capabilities right onto that big screen in your living room. You can ask Vlingo what comedies are playing, tell it to flip the channel, or even have it rent or buy movies--all by speaking to it with natural language. And the scary thing is that it will actually understand and comply

There's also Aurasma, a stunning augmented-reality app that brings 3D pop-ups to life in the world around you. Its image-recognition technology is so smart that it can be programmed to augment almost any object you can think of, like a computer component or even a front door. It's a huge step forward from the simple augmenting of magazine ads that we've seen in the past, and it works like a charm.

Similar to Aurasma is Blippar, which also takes otherwise static objects and makes them interact with your devices. Combined with these insanely wearable protoype glasses from Vuzix, and we're looking at nothing less than the beginning stages of a real-world "Snow Crash" or "Halting State."

And finally, there's Magisto, one of the most intelligent AI-based mobile apps we've seen. Magisto can take your iPhone videos and edit them in exactly one click. Well, that's not true, because you have to tell Magisto what kind of music you like. But after that, it's seriously one click. Magisto adds the music track, drops in the transitions, and even uses its superadvanced algorithms to choose what's important and what to cut. Amazing.