CES 2013: Sorting the Nuggets From the Dross
CES, the international consumer electronics show conducted every January in Las Vegas, is easier to hate than it is to love. Hype drowns out substance. Innovative and interesting products are easily overshadowed by rooms literally full of craptastic junk. Travel/logistics can be a nightmare -- especially given the surge in attendance to some 150,000 this year. And let's not forget the myriad ways that Las Vegas seems to transform reasonable people into doltish twits.
CES also offers a macro view into the IT industry that's hard to beat, and this year's show was no exception. That may be because with global economies showing some semblance of life, vendors responded optimistically. At the same time, some tech sectors are in the midst of fundamental, evolutionary changes whose effects were apparent across the Las Vegas Convention Center and the dozen or so hotels on the Strip that were hosting related events. Following is an overview of CES 2013 announcements and products I found especially compelling.
Mobility en Vogue
Not surprisingly, mobile technology products, such as smartphones, tablets, laptops and hybrids occupied a lot of CES booth space. The mobility theme was apparent across numerous other areas. On the ridiculous side, count in the hundreds of vendors selling skins, earbuds, chargers and other smartphone gizmos.
More sublime were automakers whose vehicles sported integrated mobile features, including voice-activated GPS, Web browsing, email, and who knows what else. We have seen the future of computing, and it can go anywhere.
Digital Intelligence Triumphant
While mobility inspired thousands of CES headlines, the deeper story is the degree to which digital intelligence has become common across virtually every sector of consumer electronics. That's obviously the case with computing and entertainment products, but it is also a strong theme in everything from health and fitness gadgets to kitchen appliances to home security equipment.
In other words, what vendors like IBM have always called the "Internet of things" is already here.
Apple and Microsoft: Nowhere and Everywhere
For a vendor who regularly snubs CES, Apple and its popular iPhone, iPad and iPod products were evident everywhere, with some sections of the cavernous LVCC largely or exclusively populated by iProducts of one kind or another. Microsoft -- which announced late year that it would no longer participate in CES -- was a similarly ghostly presence in scores of new products and announcements.
Plus, CEO Steve Ballmer's surprise appearance at Qualcomm's press conference lent that already-surrealistic event a soupcon of Windows weirdness.
Emerging Market Focus
How can you tell when a market or sector becomes commercially viable? When vendors begin spending money on it. That seems the case with smartphone solutions aimed at developing markets, like Intel's new Atom Z2420 CPU. The company is working with Acer, Lava International and Safaricom to leverage the new chips in "value" (low cost) smartphone markets in Asia, Africa and other regions.
Add to this rumors published by DigiTimes that Apple is developing a cheap iPhone to introduce in emerging markets later this year. Though the rumors were quickly quashed, the idea makes sense, especially if Intel's Atom Z2420 projection of 500 million handset sales is accurate.
Reinventing the PC
For a product class that many claim is in its death throes, personal computers made great strides at CES 2013. First, Intel's announcement of its fourth-gen Haswell Core processors, slated for late 2013, should deliver on the company's Ultrabook vision with all-day battery life, full- blown system performance, touch enablement, Intel's Perceptual Computing features (gesture, facial and voice recognition), and ever-thinner, more stylish designs.
The following day, AMD hosted a press conference to discuss its graphically intensive Surround Computing strategy, as well as the PCs, laptops and tablets using the company's latest APUs. The event highlight was the SurRound House demo, an immersive 360-degree positional audio system synched with 10 HD-capable TV "windows" that place viewers in the middle of an intense game environment -- all of it running off a single AMD-based PC.
Simplifying Big Data
Big Data has been a growing subject of interest among enterprises, but its impact on consumers and small businesses is no less profound. In fact, you could argue that it's a bigger headache for those customers since few have the experience, skills or tools to effectively manage crushing volumes of audio/video files, or effectively navigate increasingly complex online sources.
CES 2013 featured an imperial ton of Big Data-related solutions, but two that stood out were HP's Aurasma service and Stremor's Liquid Helium language heuristics engine. The former allows businesses to utilize image and pattern recognition technologies acquired by HP in the Autonomy deal to digitally enrich advertising, signage, publishing and packaging. The latter leverages language analysis to enhance online content discovery, creation and consumption; think of it as CliffsNotes for the Internet. We expect to hear more about both solutions in the coming months.
Outside of a few lust-worthy hybrid laptops and tablets (mainly from Dell and Lenovo), my favorite CES 2013 products were relatively modest. The new NAS storage products from the LenovoEMC joint venture are well-designed and attractively priced, and offer cloud-based features that could make me rethink my use of local storage.
Fujitsu's ScanSnap iX500 is a terrific, simple solution for scanning and saving paper records, including receipts. Private WiFi offers an intriguingly simple solution for encrypting and securing the data on phones, tablets and laptops being used on public WiFi networks.
CardNinja gets my best-of-show award for best/simplest/most useful product -- a sticky-backed pocket designed to hold up to eight credit cards or cash that turns any smartphone into a physical wallet.
Darwin Award Contenders
Is there anything more annoying than a car with a blaring sound system? How about a motorcyclist with the same thing but no muffling doors and windows? Now bicyclists can join in the ear-numbing fun with the Scosche boomBOTTLE, a Bluetooth-connected speaker designed to fit in a bike water bottle bracket.
Scosche may have received a CES Best Of Show award for its contribution to public noise pollution, but that may lose a bit of shine the first time a boomBOTTLE owner is run into the weeds by an irate driver.