CES: Innovation, Not so New Technology

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The 2013 CES show is now history. First, a few obligatory numbers and statistics:

  • The CEA reports that this year’s CES was the largest yet with 1.92 million net square feet of exhibit space.
  • More than 3,200 exhibitors showed approximately 20,000 new products.
  • More than 150,000 total attendees.
  • Over 35,000 attendees from outside the U.S.
  • Over 170 countries were represented.
  • And, on a personal level, during CES week I walked nearly 40 miles visiting the various CES locations, halls, meetings, and booths (as measured accurately by my Fitbit wireless and connected pedometer).

Now, some general observations and opinions:

  • The show was huge and it was virtually impossible to see everything as there were exhibits not only at the Las Vegas Convention center, but also on multiple floors of the Venetian. Meetings were held at Mandalay Bay and other locations and private meetings and preferred press and customer displays  were spread across the city.
  • Of the 20,000 new products, many were truly interesting, useful, and quite evolutionary--one or two revolutionary. Some not so revolutionary; after all, how many different iPhone cases, screen protectors, tiny smart phone speakers do you really care about? Hundreds, if not thousands, of such products were on display.
  • In some areas it was so crowded that you could hardly move, but there were many highly-intelligent and opinionated people to speak with. Attendees could have a good discussion and learn something valuable.
  • When you left a hall you had to penetrate a wall of smoke as many visitors from outside the U.S. have picked up a bad habit from the twentieth century.
  • Attendees, no matter if they were eating a ham sandwich, sushi, or a Kosher meal, were interested in the same thing: New and interesting technology and new products making use of technology introduced in the last few years.
  • A few times it crossed my mind that I might actually be getting too old for this and should go take a nap.

The most impressive, most-evolved devices I saw include the latest smart TVs from Samsung, LG, Sharp, and others. It is not only their networking ability that impresses, but the ultra-thin bezels and the suburb pictures on huge screens. The next generation of ultra HD screens is truly amazing, but for now, there's not a lot of content. Even though these devices can upgrade a standard HD picture one has to ask if the present cost is something that a sane person would consider. Still, they are worth seeing. On the TV front, the most talked-about product of the last few years was noticeable by its (almost) absence: 3D TV. Yes, there were some being shown, but the bloom is clearly off the rose where home 3D TVs are concerned. Much progress is being made with glasses-free 3D and perhaps that will spark new interest in the future. For now, 3D movies seem to have found their place and that's in the movie theater.

Changing our focus from huge screens to much smaller ones, new phones all sport Corning’s Gorilla Glass, which, along with nano-sealing processes, should greatly extend the life of many of the portable devices we can't do without. Why would anyone buy a smartphone without Gorilla Glass? One of the few truly revolutionary products at CES were the new, very flexible screens from Samsung and Sharp. The display quality is excellent and we were shown screens running while bent into a full "U" shape. In fact, I was told that as long as the screen is not folded into a crease it will operate fine. Perhaps we will all be wearing bracelet smartphones and rolling up our tablets in a few years. The screens are still concepts, but they promise to greatly expand the possible form factors available soon.

Not much is new on the PC hardware front, although Intel is introducing a next-generation processor and NVIDIA introduced the Tegra 4, a more powerful and capable ARM-type processor for portable devices. For those that buy or build high-end computers, new self-contained liquid cooling units and touch screens are in high demand. Touch has its place on smartphones, tablets, and even some notebooks, but I cannot see myself doing serious work or even gaming for long with my arm and hand held up to a screen a few feet away. I think touch will find its place--its niche--just as 3D seems to have done.

The new Windows 8 start screen seemed to be everywhere at CES, as was Microsoft's Modern (Metro) interface. There were dozens of very impressive, thin, light, very-high-definition, very powerful (for a portable) ultra book computers. Almost every brand was sporting a new series of impressive ultra books or ultra book tablet hybrids. My favorites were the new offerings from Lenovo, but, to be honest, I did not see a single one that would disappoint. Of course, they all now come with Windows 8 which in itself seems to becoming more accepted and appreciated. Once you learn how, Windows 8 will do everything that the much acclaimed Windows 7 did, but faster. It has been reported that in the last month more than 1,500 new PCs and devices using Windows 8 have been released. While the new interface was originally panned, I heard many comments by those seeing the wisdom of one common interface for smart phones, tablets, hybrids, ultra books, and PCs.

As far as tablets go, and there were many of them, there seems to be less interest on Droid and I-tablets as well as Windows RT tablets, but lots of interest in full Windows 8 tablets, such as the new offerings from Lenovo. Rave reviews are also coming in for  the upcoming Surface Pro. The real excitement on the computer side of things are ultra books.

Other areas of interest include true robotic helpers. The evolution of robots seems well underway. In fact, it seems like robots have become almost a national obsession in Japan.Nikon was showing some amazing new cameras--extremely high-resolution still images and video and full wireless capability on some models. No matter how many portable devices sport one or even two cameras there is no beating a good DSLR for professional picture quality.

It would be wrong to discuss CES without addressing automotive electronics. The things that you can do in your car more than equal what you could do in a high-tech office just a few years ago. One has to ask with all the touch screens and capability how can you possibly drive? The answer is that perhaps you will not have to--the cars will drive themselves.

While 3D TV seems to have taken a back seat, 3D printing has not. Actual working devices are now being manufactured through the process of 3D printing and are being printed one layer at a time.

CES was full of thousands of toys, "me too" covers for phones, huge subwoofers for cars that let you hear the driver's bass in the next county, handles that help you not drop your tablet or phone, and other products for which a serious use can only be imagined. Except for a very few items, I did not see many revolutionary new products, but the evolution of the consumer tech world’s devices seems to be accelerating. We can hardly imagine what devices we will be using in five years.


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