Why CES Will Suck This Year
Jan 7, 2013 5:00 AM PT
I think CES is the worst show in the technology market. That's not because it is badly run -- on the contrary, it is one of the better-run shows. Nor is it because there aren't any interesting and compelling products there. No, it is because we all just blew out our budgets buying crap, and CES is a showcase of why we should have waited for the improved crap that will be in the market shortly.
In effect, CES not only destroys the holidays for the poor saps who have to prepare for it -- it makes us all look like we wasted our money buying soon-to-be-obsolete gifts for our loved ones. There will be a number of announcements at the show that will make that TV, Tablet, PC or even car we got just a few weeks ago look like really bad decision.
I'll close with my product of the week: a system from the company that does the best job of moving music around the house -- and it won't be made obsolete by CES (I hope).
Yes, Your TV is Out-of-Date
Did you get a brand new 3D HDTV for Christmas Bunky? Well get ready to look at it like you might your grandfather's Chrysler Imperial, because that puppy is old school as of this week on two fronts. HD is the new standard definition, because CES is showcasing ultra high-definition -- or 4K -- TVs this week.
Yes, that HDTV you have is now 1/4th the resolution of these new sets. Oh, and if that isn't enough, several manufacturers are already showcasing the next technology, just to let you know that if you buy a 4K TV it may be obsolete just as quickly -- and there are 8K TVs in the works I'm told.
I kind of miss the old days when a TV stayed current for at least eight years. Now it looks like we'll be lucky if they make it eight months.
Granted, these are pretty compelling sets, and increasing resolution is far easier than the 3D attempt was, because getting good 3D content kind of started and ended with one movie: Avatar. You can upscale HD to higher resolutions pretty easily, and the pictures are stunning so there won't be a shortage of content -- just cash in what used to be your retirement account.
Did you buy a new Windows 8 PC over the holidays? It seemed safe, right? New OS, brand new hardware -- what could go wrong? Well, apparently there was this huge shortage of touch displays, and that means the vast majority of Windows 8 products kind of missed Christmas. They won't miss CES, though -- they'll be at the show quietly screaming "you're an idiot" for buying a new PC just before CES.
One of the most compelling is a new class called "portable all-in-ones," or why your iMac belongs in the last decade. That's because these all-in-ones merge desktop computers, portable TVs (for streaming), and tabletop video games (think of having the same experience with animated board games that you had with e-books and you'll start to get this) in one somewhat-portable, battery powered package.
This product will be joined by Microsoft's Pro version of its Surface tablet, and most of the high battery life Intel products that didn't make it last month. Remember when you used to have a whole quarter to enjoy your new PC? Well you got a whole two weeks this time.
The Cloud Is Dead, All Hail the New Cloud!
You have cloud streaming services -- does your stuff kind of maybe move to some of your devices some of the time? Are you finally getting used to the quirks of trying to figure out why you have to buy the same music and movies multiple times to get it where you want it? Well, those skills are on the short list of things that will become obsolete along with the hardware that uses them, because everyone and their brother will be showing improvements to cloud services.
The issue for much of this is that the folks doing the interfaces on smart TVs and those doing the programs are different folks, and that means that navigation won't likely get better -- it'll just get different.
I know I love learning new navigation skills for Web products; won't it be great to know, while you are struggling with the differences, that the new skills you're learning may be obsolete before you're done learning them? Change is good, my ass.
Smarter Cars, Dumber Drivers
The biggest battle at CES likely won't be between the TV makers, PC makers, tablet makers, cloud vendors, even the poor saps trying to make accessories for devices with a life cycle of under a quarter -- but the car companies. Yes, the car companies have looked at Ford's success with Sync and decided to increase their cycle rate for in-car technology.
However, they are apparently doing squat to increase their technology cycle rate for the cars themselves. This means that the car companies are trying to match an industry that cycles twice a year with a car development process that cycles two or three times a decade.
So, this likely means you'll find a car you love and a technology in a car you'll want, but increasingly not be able to get them in the same vehicle. Better yet, the technology in the new car you buy will now have even a higher probability of being outmoded. Yes, at CES you'll be able to see in spades not only why your brand new car is obsolete but that your next new car will likely be obsolete before you buy it. Isn't that fun!?!
Wrapping Up: OK, It's Not That Bad
No -- it's worse, because the speed of change is increasing on all vectors. Kind of makes you want to move to a tropical location, grab an umbrella drink, and go back to a time when high-tech meant matches, huh? Well, maybe not, but it does suggest that rather than giving tech gifts for the holidays, giving gift cards -- or jewelry (this got my wife's vote) -- is a better plan.
In any case, I'll be at CES, likely drooling over all the stuff I'll want to buy, getting upset about how out of date my home and cars have become, and being thankful that this show only comes once a year. Well, at least the one I actually go to comes once a year. I sure as hell couldn't afford two of these things.
Product of the Week: Sonos
The nice thing about the Sonos music system is that I've had it since it first came out and all of the components still work -- well, one did wear out -- and get regularly updated over the Web. Yes, they come out with new components, but the result is additive, and the system has always been easy to set up and very easy to use.
It is the only whole-house system of its class that has party mode -- where you can have all of the rooms play the same music on the same note at the same time -- and that easily connects to all of the Web-based music services I use.
I don't use iTunes, which requires an iPod dock to work with the system. It is nice to have one product that doesn't really become obsolete -- particularly when so many other offerings are obsolete when you buy them. At an entry price for a core system of around US$500, it isn't cheap -- but quality never is. Not having to constantly replace components, but instead being able to expand the system is a great counterpoint to a technology world that has a product half-life often measured in days.
Because Sonos has been a great product that I so often take for granted because it just works, it is my first product of the week for 2013. I just wish there were more companies like Sonos that focused more on creating a relationship with their customers and less about cycling their products at an increasing rate.